A battle has begun for American hearts and minds. That is one obvious interpretation of Netanyahu’s belligerent speech to the UN yesterday, in which he dismissed Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s overtures to the west as a “charm offensive.” The same can be said of Iranian officials’ anger at President Obama for “macho” flipflopping in his meeting with Netanyahu Monday.
From the New York Times editorial today:
The Iranians were so angered by what they called Mr. Netanyahu’s “inflammatory” speech that they issued a rebuttal and spoke of the need to “sustain the current positive atmosphere” so that diplomacy could be successful. Similarly, they were not happy that Mr. Obama, meeting Mr. Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, took a harsher tone toward Iran than he did when he spoke by phone with Mr. Rouhani last week.
Yes, the Iranian Foreign Minister called Obama macho:
Pres.Obama’s presumption that Iran is negotiating because of his illegal threats and sanctions is disrespectful of a nation,macho and wrong. — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 1, 2013
Macho because Obama said that the military option is on the table, something he didn’t say at the U.N. From Obama’s appearance at the White House:
given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past — the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel — it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient, that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that, in fact, they are meeting their international obligations fully, and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon. What I also shared with the Prime Minister is that, because of the extraordinary sanctions that we have been able to put in place over the last several years, the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate.
The Iranian Foreign Minister says Obama is flipflopping, and Rouhani retweeted that:
President Obama needs consistency to promote mutual confidence. Flip flop destroys trust and undermines US credibility. — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 1, 2013
The Times explains that Obama is playing to the Israel lobby.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani have hard-line domestic audiences and allies that they will need to consider and cajole as they undertake this effort to resolve the nuclear dispute and develop a new relationship. For Mr. Obama, that means working closely with Israel and helping Mr. Netanyahu see that sabotaging diplomacy, especially before Iran is tested, only makes having to use force more likely. That would be the worst result of all.
It’s about time they told us about that hard line domestic audience that commands the president’s tongue!
The Iranians are certainly aware of the lobby. From the apparently-official twitter handle, Meet Iran:
There’s evidence that the charm offensive is working. At the Forward, Larry Cohler-Esses reports that a group of congresspeople spent 3 hours — that’s three hours — at the home of the Iranian ambassador with the Iranian Foreign Minister the other day.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with a delegation of Congress members from both parties for three hours at the home of Iran’s UN Ambassador. “There were a lot of members present,” said Marshall Breger, a former senior official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who was there. “And they included people normally considered hawkish.”
And here is Scott McConnell at the American Conservative saying that Americans may well learn to love Iran. Just as they learned to love China after the China opening in the 1970s.
Recall: in 1971, American elites fell in love with China. The “China Lobby”—that large complex of anti-communist Chinese and Americans with personal and professional ties to China who felt jilted by the Revolution and which had prevented any rapprochement until then—proved to be a proverbial “paper tiger” once President Nixon decided to reach beyond it. American elites were suddenly enthralled by ping pong and pandas. New York Times columnist James Reston had an appendectomy with no anesthetic beyond acupuncture, and it worked out wonderfully—and became the source of hundreds of respectful news stories about Chinese medicine. For years, China was the new flavor on the block. Growing ties with China were the backdrop to everything: America could be humiliated in Vietnam and the world hardly noticed. Iran, of course, is a smaller deal—smaller in its size, cultural and military weight, and aspirations. But it is a Muslim country that is highly educated (which seems to be the nexus of the problem for Washington’s hawks) and is moving seriously towards democracy. It is not Saudi Arabia, whose ruling princes have all the corruptions and weaknesses associated with vast unearned wealth. Iran has all the traits of a modernizing state—mass literacy, mobilized working classes. It has managed to hold its head high throughout almost 30 years of confrontation with Washington. It promises a vast market for American businesses to help rebuild its infrastructure. My guess is that many Americans will fall in love with the place—or at least with the combination of exoticism and profits that detente with Iran promises.
Speaking of exoticism and profits, Hassan Rouhani hints he wants to start direct flights between the US and Iran, as an overture to Iranian expatriates.
— Meet Iran (@MeetIran) September 30, 2013
NOW: Iranians abroad are national capital. Let us, the Gov. & Parliament, facilitate their return to #Iran
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) October 1, 2013
Finally, the Iranian president is publicizing a CNN piece on the Jewish community in Iran, said to be the largest outside of Israel in the Middle East.
“I only prefer to live in Iran,” says Ciamak Morsadegh, a Jewish legislator. “There is a great difference between being a Jew and being pro-Israeli or Zionist. I think the behavior of the Israeli regime is not in the direction of Torah and Talmud…”
And CNN’s Reza Sayah says, “Those that remain say they face no discrimination…”