As Obama Greets Iranians on Nowruz, He’s Made some Medicines hard to Afford (Jahanpour)

Farhang Jahanpour writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the world. In fact, the palace of Persepolis built in the sixth century BC was an audience hall for celebrating Nowruz. It takes the spring equinox (falling on 20 or 21 March each year) as the start of the year, and it is celebrated in Iran and in many other countries, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and other Central Asian states, as well as Arran (Republic of Azerbaijan) and some other countries in the Caucasus. It is celebrated by the Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey and many other peoples who have a shared history with Iran. It is a time of renewal and rebirth.

On the Wednesday prior to the New Year (Chaharshanbeh Suri) Iranians jump over fires that they light to symbolize that they are leaving winter behind and are preparing themselves for the coming spring, which in Iran where the seasons are very regular brings about a sudden and dramatic change in nature. Even those who can afford only one new set of clothes a year, wear their new clothes, visit their relatives (starting with the more senior right down to the youngest ones) and give and receive presents. New Year holidays last at least five days and all schools, colleges and many other institutions are closed for two weeks, enabling millions of Iranians to travel to different parts of the country.

Since coming to power, President Obama has sent a recorded message to the Iranians on the occasion of Nowruz. In his first message, breaking with tradition, he went out of his way to address not only the Iranian people but also the Iranian government, and extended the hand of friendship. He said: “So 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.” He even went on to quote a line from a famous poem by the Iranian poet Sa’di, namely “The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.”

For a number of reasons, that gesture did not produce the desired results. Part of the problem was that the Neoconservative remnants who were advising him on Iran set a very tight deadline, saying that the window of opportunity should be open for a limited time and if Iran did not respond the US should adopt stronger measures against Iran. Threats of “all options are on the table” never ceased. However, maybe the main reason for the lack of progress was the rigged Iranian election in 2009 that gave rise to the brutal suppression of the Green Movement by the Iranian hardliners. Under those circumstances, it was understandable that the US president could not continue extending the hand of friendship to Iranian leaders. In fact, Ahmadinezhad’s message of congratulation to President Obama on his election and his other efforts to start a dialog with the US went completely unanswered. The subsequent Nowruz messages by President Obama became harsher in tone and criticized Iran for her nuclear program.

In his latest Nowruz message released early on 18 March so that it would not be overshadowed by his visit to Israel, the president has adopted a softer tone:

He chided Iranian officials for having failed “to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions and work toward an enduring, long-term settlement of the nuclear issue,” but he extended the hand of friendship saying: “As I’ve said all along, the United States prefers to resolve the matter peacefully, diplomatically.” He assured the Iranians: “Indeed, if—as Iran’s leaders say—their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution. It’s a solution that would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while resolving once and for all the serious questions that the world has about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program… The United States, alongside the rest of the international community, is ready to reach such a solution.”

Although admitting that finding a solution would not be easy, he enumerated some of its benefits: “Finding a solution will be no easy task. But if we can, the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States. Whereas if the Iranian government continues down its current path, it will only further isolate Iran. This is the choice now before Iran’s leaders.” The president concluded: “As a new spring begins, I remain hopeful that our two countries can move beyond tension. And I will continue to work toward a new day between our nations that bears the fruit of friendship and peace.”

This time, he quoted a line from another great Iranian poet Hafiz who wrote: “Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfilment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering.” Let us hope that this time the two countries can move beyond simple words and can demonstrate their peaceful intenions by deeds. As the Persian saying goes “do sad gofteh chun nim kerdar nist” two hundred good words are not as effective as half a good deed. As many Iranians are suffering from lack of medicine, as a gesture of goodwill, the president could say that since medicine is not included in sanctions he will authorize the banks to provide credit for the purchase of medicine. He could ease some of the travel restrictions on Iranian students and tourists. Such measures would be much more effective in winning the hearts and minds of the Iranians than just fine words.

Here is a program of happy seasonal songs for Nowruz performed by Kamakars ensemble:

* Dr Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, Iran, and a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He is Associate Fellow at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and tutor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford

11 Responses

  1. Iran – probably the only Islamic country that is at peace with its pre-Islamic past and in fact proud of it and embraces it.
    Which shows maturity that great civilizations show.

    For this reason alone the US and Iran should be friends and should be on the same side. I wish all Iranians Happy Nowruz and hope that with the elections behind him, Obama is able to craft a settlement between the Iran and the US (and world) and get on the journey towards being close allies.

    • That Iran celebrates Nowruz today is no thanks to the Iranian Government. After the revolution in 1979, The theocratic government of Khomeini outlawed Nowruz as “un-Islamic.” There were great protests by the people, and the government re-introduced Nowruz to calm the population. The Iranian people, as usual, were far more advanced than their government.

      • A notable example of an IRI official showing much appreciation and sophistication towards his country’s ancient history, is the notorious post-revolution hanging judge Sadegh Khalkhali. To quote from
        link to en.wikipedia.org
        “Khalkhali was known for his antipathy towards pre-Islamic Iran. In 1979 he wrote a book “branding king Cyrus the Great a tyrant, a liar, and a homosexual” and “called for the destruction of the Cyrus tomb and remains of the two-thousand-year-old Persian palace in Shiraz, Fars Province, the Persepolis.” According an interview by Elaine Sciolino of Shiraz-based Ayatollah Majdeddin Mahallati, Khalkhali came to Persepolis with “a band of thugs” and gave an angry speech demanding that “the faithful torch the silk-lined tent city and the grandstand that the Shah had built,” but was driven off by stone-throwing local residents.”

    • For this reason alone the US and Iran should be friends and should be on the same side.

      I believe that Iran is America’s most natural ally in southwest Asia, and that within a few decades an American-Indian-Iranian alliance will be as important in world affairs as NATO was in the late 20th.

      • “I believe that Iran is America’s most natural ally in southwest Asia, and that within a few decades an American-Indian-Iranian alliance will be as important in world affairs as NATO was in the late 20th.”

        The Israelis would give you a run for your money on that one, Joe.

        Regarding the future of a potential American-Indian-Iranian alliance being as important as NATO, I don’t see it. NATO (at least until the great post Cold War expansion) consisted of like-minded nations that shared a common Western heritage, steeped in the Enlightenment, and thus had a common view of threats and dangers requiring joint action. (The one exception was Turkey, but Ataturk Westernized Turkey.) Iran and India do not share such a common heritage and outlook, and neither shares a common heritage and outlook with America. Any given crisis would be viewed very differently by each, as opposed to the view shared by the countries of NATO. Even NATO is now fragmented in its approach to crises. The Soviet threat was the real glue that cemented the alliance.

  2. Rigged election? That tired lie again?

    Juan, how ’bout coming up with actual evidence before allowing such to be perpetuated on your site. Go ahead and take a crack at dispelling the Leverett’s take on the election, as well as the Brill analysis. To date, no one has offered a credible, substantive rebuttal to such using actual evidence and/or polling data using scientifically derived methodologies– you know, the likes of which have all consistently mirrored the official election result..

    I’ve an open mind. When someone succeeds in this, I’ll change my mind. But until then, when I hear this apparent lie being perpetuated, and comments to such censored here on your site, I can only conclude you folks are kust another cog in the problem, not the solution.

    • Pirouz! You are of course free to think what you like about 2009 presidential election. I have a great deal of respect for the Leveretts and I believe that most of what they write about Iran is very helpful and informative, but the evidence about the fraudulent nature of the 2009 election is incontrovertible. I have personally talked to many officials who were involved in the election, and they have told me that Mir-Hoseyn Musavi’s office was informed by the Interior Ministry that he had won and had to prepare his victory speech, but he was asked not to gloat. Shortly afterwards, everything changed and different results were announced.

      Apart from the fact that the way that the candidates are vetted and selected by the rightwing Guardian Council that is an unelected body by itself makes the elections undemocratic, there is plenty of evidence that the 2009 election was even more undemocratic than usual. If you are so shocked that the election could have been rigged you should bear in mind that two former presidents of the same regime, Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, have openly stated that the election had been rigged. The reformist candidate Mir-Hoseyn Musavi who was a prime minister during Ayatollah Khomeini’s period, and the other candidate Mehdi Karrubi who had held very high positions under Khomeini and who had served twice as the parliamentary speaker are in jail or under house arrest because they said that the election had been rigged. Dozens were killed and hundreds of reformists and journalists were arrested and jailed – many of them are still languishing in jail – because they said that the election had been rigged.

      You say that you have an open mind and are open to persuasion. I hope the following studies, the first two by an eminent Iranian scholar Professor Ali Ansari, another by a leading expert on elections, and two articles by me are sufficient to enable you to change your mind:

      link to chathamhouse.org

      link to chathamhouse.org

      link to www-personal.umich.edu

      link to opendemocracy.net

      link to payvand.com

      • Pirouz is a regular at various Iran-related websites, always repeating the same line about the “Brill analysis,” “scientific data” & “poll results,” whenever someone casts doubt on the 2009 election results. But based on his past comments, I doubt if he’s read much of the analyses that he refers to, let alone those that take an opposing view. And, while the Leveretts, like anyone in general, can have valid points about the US-Iran relations, much of their writing on the topic comes across to me as crass apologetics for the IRI.

  3. Made some medicines hard to afford. Hey,, that sounds exactly like where I live,, in the United States !!

    • Some of the very basic imported products are hard to find here, including medicines, among them sedatives and the like.Medicines that could be found in any pharmacy anywhere in the world. These sanctions are being directed against every Iranian individual now. My friends living abroad can’t even transfer money online, simply because they carry an Iranian passport.

  4. the problem of medicine starts from within, remember the health minister disclosing this problem and got fired???
    very basic medicine is in need in Iran and is not sanctioned.

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