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According to WhiteHouse.gov, where the complete video is posted, Mr. Obama "wanted to send a special message to the people and government of Iran on Nowruz, acknowledging the strain in our relations over the last few decades."
...In this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right – but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
So on the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It's a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.
The Nowruz message is the latest step in what The Christian Science Monitor called the Obama administration's "eyes-wide-open approach to Iran," involving "small diplomatic steps" to encourage Iran to cease its nuclear program. The BBC offers a detailed breakdown of the foreign policy implications of Obama's words. And in an article for The Huffington Post, international relations professor Trita Parsi writes that "In almost every aspect, Obama's approach was the opposite of that of President George Bush."
[Obama] referred to the "Islamic Republic of Iran," the formal name of Iran after the 1979 revolution, indicating his acceptance of the revolution and the reality of the current government. This will likely be read in Tehran as an indication that the policy of the United States no longer is regime change. This does not, of course, mean that Obama opposes democratization in Iran – rather, it means that Washington will seek behavioral rather than regime change in Tehran.
[He also] recognized that threats will not help resolve US-Iran tensions. No more "all options are on the table" or the implicit or explicit threat of force as a stick to compel Iranian submission....
Perhaps most importantly, Obama signaled America's strategic intent to achieve constructive ties among the United States and Iran. This is essential as he declared that the American end game is to have a positive relationship with Iran and that he intends to put the destructive enmity of the past three decades behind them. Signaling this intent will make any tactical cooperation with Iran in Afghanistan more likely and more fruitful.... Absent this strategic signal, the Iranians would likely have refused helping the United States tactically in Afghanistan.
Eric Black, a blogger at MinnPost.com, notes that while former President George W. Bush also issued Nowruz greetings during his presidency, they "were of a different tone, some years more focused on Iranian-Americans, some years coupled with a Voice Of America Persian news service interview blaming the Iranian leaders for making life worse for their people."
We welcome the wish of the president of the United States to put away past differences," Ahmadinejad's press advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr told AFP in reaction to Obama's message at Nowruz in which he urged a resolution of differences and an "honest" engagement with Tehran.
"But the way to do that is not by Iran forgetting the previous hostile and aggressive attitude of the United States," Javanfekr said, responding when AFP read to him extracts of Obama's statement.
"The American administration has to recognise its past mistakes and repair them as a way to put away the differences."
But Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad both delivered Nowruz speeches and neither referenced Obama's message.
The Associated Press reports that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed the message, calling it "very constructive." Mr. Solana, who has been Europe's primary negotiator with Iran over the years, also expressed his hope that it would "open a new chapter in relations with Tehran."
This story was updated at 2:09 p.m.