President Barack Obama has spoken on Iran. He chose a terrific occasion that would catch prime time attention of the American public - a live interview during NBC’s Super Bowl pre-game show on Sunday night. In essence, he laid to rest the feverish speculations over the meaning of defence secretary Leon Panetta’s intriguing ‘leak’ that Israel might attack Iran through the coming 3-month period.
I read somewhere that the best favor you could do to your drunken pal who wants to drive home after the party is to steal his car key so that he calls a taxi for the ride home. Well, that’s what Obama just did.
that US and Israel move “in lockstep” on Iran issue and that he knows of no Israeli decision to attack Iran – “I don’t think Israel has made a decision on what they need to do” — and, equally, his affirmation that his officials “don’t see any evidence that Iranians had the intentions or capabilities” to strike targets on US soil and, of course, that diplomacy still remained the “preferred solution” to resolving the standoff with Iran — all this will very substantially help dissipate the war clouds gathering on the Persian Gulf skies in recent weeks.
To my mind, Obama’s most important remark was the following: “But they [Iranians] have not taken the step they need to, diplomatically, which is to say, ‘We will pursue peaceful nuclear power, we will not pursue a nuclear weapon.” Are we hearing a peace formula?
Obama is not insisting that Iran should abdicate its natural right to pursue a nuclear programme, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but on its part Iran could help matters by allowing additional safeguards that would allay the apprehensions of the international community regarding the verifiability of its professed intentions not to make nuclear weapons. The critical part indeed is Obama’s open acknowledgement that Iran’s nuclear programme, as of now, remains a peaceful programme.
I found it fascinating that Obama, who is a highly cerebral politician, also signalled something by speaking during an interview where his main message was, “I deserve a second term, but we’re not done. We’ve made progress, and the right thing now is to just make sure we don’t start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.” And then, lo and behold, Obama went on and on speaking for much of the interview on the issue of Iran.
What I can make out from this is that this gifted statesman decided to gently step back from his increasingly rowdyish election campaign, which is still hotting up, to make a commitment that these might be early days but he wasn’t interested in whipping up Iranophobia. Simply put, he won’t play domestic politics with the Iran nuclear issue. It is a helpful assurance that Tehran may take note when the general wisdom is that Obama is a cold-blooded politician who wouldn’t hesitate to go to war with Iran if that helped secure his re-election campaign.
Some serious back channel contacts are surely at work. My instinct is that Obama made a big decision to take note of the positive signals from Tehran
that it is interested in a meaningful engagement. Of course, it requires patience to make out the Persian puzzle, but the fact remains that Tehran literally stooped to conquer the IAEA inspectors who visited last week. And the inspectors gladly promised they’d return later in February on a second visit. Meanwhile, Obama spoke.