Olive branch to the mullahs: Obama won’t rule out embassy in TEHRAN but says the Iranian capital is a country – not a city
Interview was conducted in the Oval Office the day after Obama said he would normalize relations with Cuba – but held back for 11 days Embassy in Tehran would be the first since 1979 hostage crisis, which Iranians still celebrate as the ‘Conquest of the American Spy Den’ Obama said if Iran proves it’s not seeking nuclear weapons, it would become a ‘very successful regional power’
Claimed credit for isolating Tehran through economic sanctions
President Barack Obama said Monday that Iran might join Cuba as a second rogue state to enjoy normalized diplomatic relations with the United States under his administration.
In a 40-minute interview with National Public Radio conducted on December 18 – but held back for 11 days – the radio network’s senior morning host quizzed Obama in the Oval Office about a wide range of policy positions, including his plans for the Middle East. ‘Is there any scenario under which you can envision, in your final two years, opening a U.S. embassy in Tehran?’ asked NPR’s Steve Inskeep. ‘I never say never,’ Obama replied, while allowing that ‘I think these things have to go in steps.’
The unprecedented olive branch pointed in the direction of Iran’s mullahs will stoke controversy among older Americans who recall the 1979 hostage crisis in the last embassy Washington maintained there. Fifty-two Americans, mostly diplomatic personnel, were taken hostage in November of that year and held for 444 days but a group of student revolutionaries.
In Iran the event is still celebrated as the ‘Conquest of the American Spy Den.’ Few observers believe Iran is interested in proving its stated intentions to abandon its nuclear-weapons ambitions by the time Obama leaves office in January 2017. But the president believes there’s a chance.
‘We have to get this nuclear issue resolved – and there’s a chance to do it,’ he said, ‘and the question’s going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it.’ That lapse aside, Obama emphasized Monday a theme that he has grappled with since the heady days of his first presidential campaign: the prospect of changing the global diplomatic map by bringing unfriendly nations under America’s wing.
‘I was asked very early in my presidential race back in 2007 – would I meet with these various rogue regimes?’ he recalled.’ And what I said then remains true: If I thought it advances American interests, yes. I believe in diplomacy, I believe in dialogue, I believe in engagement.’ He also claimed credit for what he characterized as a realignment of global attitudes toward Iran
‘When I came into office, the world was divided and Iran was in the driver’s seat,’ Obama said. But through economic sanctions, ‘now the world’s united because of the actions we’ve taken, and Iran’s the one that’s isolated.’ ‘I mean, there’s a reason why we’ve been able to get this far in the negotiations,’ he said: ‘We mobilized the international community at the start of my presidency – a classic example of American leadership.’
But Iran’s supreme religious authorities, who run the country despite the fig leaf of a constitutional government, has ‘a path to break through that isolation,’ Obama declared. ‘And they should seize it.’