President Obama delivered his annual message to the Iranian people on
Tuesday, using a far more confrontational tone than usual to say that
he will seek ways to break through the “electronic curtain” that
Tehran has thrown over the Internet and other forms of communication.
“I want the Iranian people to know that America seeks a dialogue to
hear your views and understand your aspirations,” Obama said in his
message to mark Nowruz, the Persian new year.
“The United States will continue to draw attention to the electronic
curtain that is cutting the Iranian people off from the world,” he
said. “And we hope that others will join us in advancing a basic
freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one
another and with their fellow human beings.”
Since taking office, Obama has used his Nowruz message to speak
directly to Iranians in an attempt to stake out common ground between
the United States and the Islamic republic.
But his remarks this year reflect the building pressure on Iran and
the rising fear of an imminent military confrontation between Israel
and the Islamic republic over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. In
his first message, three years ago, Obama sought “the promise of a
new beginning” with Tehran.
This year’s message coincided with efforts by the administration to
sharpen the impact of economic sanctions aimed at Iran’s rulers. The
State Department announced Tuesday that it will grant exemptions from
U.S. economic penalties to 11 countries that have voluntarily reduced
their reliance on Iranian oil.
Those nations — Japan and 10 European Union members — are traditional
consumers of Iranian petroleum. All were potentially subject to new,
congressionally mandated economic sanctions that penalize any foreign
banks involved in oil transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.
European countries have approved a boycott of all Iranian oil imports
beginning July 1, and Japan has unilaterally agreed to reduce Iranian
oil purchases by up to 22 percent.
U.S. officials are negotiating with 12 other customers of Iran,
including China, India and South Korea, to encourage cutbacks in
Iranian oil purchases before June 28, when the U.S. sanctions are set
to take effect.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the 11 nations for
showing “solidarity and their commitment to holding Iran accountable.”
Obama’s more aggressive message this year reflects the increasing
concern in Washington, Tel Aviv and other capitals about Iran’s
enrichment program, which Israel believes will be used to produce a
In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this
month, Obama argued against a military strike until the full set of
economic sanctions takes effect against Iran this summer, a squeeze
the president hopes will persuade Iran’s Shiite Muslim leadership to
give up the enrichment program.
But Obama, facing a difficult reelection campaign this year that
would be further complicated by a regional war in the oil-rich Middle
East, has declared that the “window is closing” for a diplomatic
Administration officials have said a goal of the sanctions is to turn
the Iranian public against the government, perhaps forcing it to give
up its nuclear program.
As he has in the past, Obama spoke directly to Iranians through his
videotaped message. His words were translated into Arabic and Farsi.
He suggested that Tehran must do more to protect Iranians’ rights at
a time when much of the Arab Middle East is engaged in democratic
uprisings, known as the Arab Spring. He noted pointedly that “over
the last year, we have learned once more that suppressing ideas never
succeeds in making them go away.”
“Like people everywhere, they have the universal right to think and
speak for themselves,” Obama said of the Iranians, whom he
called “heirs to a great and ancient civilization.” “The Iranian
government has a responsibility to respect these rights, just as it
has the responsibility to meet its obligations with regard to its
Obama also said “there is no reason for the United States and Iran to
be divided from one another.”
He noted that the Iranian film “A Separation” won the Academy Award
this year for best foreign film and that “from Facebook to Twitter —
from cellphones to the Internet — our people use the same tools to
talk to one another and to enrich our lives.”