“An Old Wound Which Must Be Healed”


That’s what Rouhani said today about the relationship between Iran and the United States. That old wound, one has to remember, really struck deep in 1953, when the CIA ousted Iran’s first democratically elected government, because it nationalized the Anglo-Persian oil company. Even then, Iran’s desire was to control its own energy supply. We know the rest of the story by now, however tone-deaf so many have become to the role of history in determining that country’s psyche and culture.

No, he did not signal a shift toward direct talks with the US, and offered no opening on the nuclear weaponry potential of the theocracy. But it truly was striking how conciliatory he was to the Sunni Saudi regime:

The priority of my government’s foreign policy will be to have excellent relations with all neighboring countries … We are not only neighbors but also brothers. Every year hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims visit Mecca. We have many common points with Saudi Arabia.

And this is surely encouraging:

First, we are ready to increase transparency and clarify our measures within the international framework. Of course our activities are already transparent, but still we increase it. Second, we will increase the trust between Iran and the world.

Yes, I’m well aware that he is not Moussavi or Karoubi – but they also backed the nuclear program (as does the opposition as a whole). And to immediately knock down any hope for some engagement with Iran seems to me to be insulting the perseverance of ordinary Iranians. The fact of US-Iranian governmental distrust and even hatred is, in the face of that country’s great history and youthful energy, a true tragedy. Jon Snow, who was reporting from Tehran over the weekend, offers a succinct portrait of the country as he now sees it, particularly in relation to the Western stereotypes:

[B]eyond the bugs in hotel rooms, the arrests, and strange people taking photographs wherever you go, there is something continuously absorbing and intriguing about Iran that renders the paranoia it provokes entirely unbearable.

The country is spectacular, the people are approachable, friendly and remain westward-looking. Many are highly educated and skilled, and 6,000 years after the country began, they are still building. In short, they are people the west used to and should still do business with.

For all its faults, Iran remains a haven of peace, surrounded by wars in which the West is deeply involved, and set to become more so after Barack Obama announced his intention last week to arm the Syrian rebels. By midnight on Saturday the Chamran highway that leads to the centre of Tehran was sporting a noisy three-car-wide, five-mile queue of families desperate to join the celebrations.

Meanwhile, Golnaz Esfandiari rounds up a collection of recent statements by the newly-elected Rouhani, including, “Using the Internet, I must say, is one of my hobbies regardless of whether I need it.” Along those lines, there are reports that the video-chat services Skype and Oovoo have now been unblocked for the first time in many months, allowing Iranians in and outside of the country to once again speak more freely with each other.

We should have no illusions that Khamenei is still in charge. But in two consecutive elections, the Iranian people have reached out to the world. We can and should find a way to reach back. In my view, that means a pragmatic path toward seeking more and more transparency in return for a very gradual ratcheting down of sanctions. We may have to go one tiny step after another. But the Iranian people deserve a response that is more than cynical. Look at them these past few days or four years’ ago. How can one be cynical in the face of that?

Previous Dish coverage of the Iranian election here.

(Photo: Iranians supporters of moderate presidential candidate, Hassan Rowhani flash the sign of victory holding a portrait of him as they wait for the final results outside his campaign headquarter in downtown Tehran on June 15, 2013. By Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)