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VIDEO: Change or More of the Same for Iran?

            On March 26, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars convened a panel of four experts to discuss prospects for Iran’s next five years. The speakers included:

Shaul Bakhash (moderator)
Clarence J. Robin Professor of History, George Mason University

Bernard Hourcade
Global Fellow, Wilson Center; and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France

Bijan Khajehpour
Managing Partner, Atieh International
 
Roberto Toscano
Former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center; President, Intercultura Foundation; Former Italian Ambassador to India, 2008-2010; Former Italian Ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008
 
Robin Wright
Wilson Center-USIP Distinguished Scholar
 

The following is a video of the event.

 

Pix: Zarif and Ashton The Ups and Downs

             Iran’s tenuous relationship with the West has been illustrated by the ups and downs in the relationship between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The two have been the lead negotiators in the new diplomacy to find a peaceful resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program. But ending longstanding tension has proved difficult as illustrated in the following pictures and tweets.

            Zarif and Ashton participated in nuclear negotiations on March 18-19 and February 19-20 in Vienna (see last picture). Ashton also made a pivotal visit to Tehran on March 8 – the first by a senior E.U. official since 2008 – to explore stronger relations between Europe and Iran on non-nuclear issues (see third picture).

            But the visit wasn’t without controversy. Within two days hardliners had posted pictures of Ashton accusing her of hypocrisy for meeting with human rights activists in Iran, while Europe ignored Saddam Hussein’s gross human rights violations against Iranians and Iraqis, including the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s (see second picture).
 
            Zarif reportedly canceled dinner with Ashton on the eve of the March nuclear talks, which has been past custom before other rounds of diplomacy, because of the domestic backlash to her visit. Nevertheless, the talks proved both “useful and substantive” and Ashton tweeted Nowruz greetings (see first picture).
 
Ashton Sends Nowruz Greetings to Zarif and Iranians
 
Hardliners Put Up Billboards Criticizing Ashton
 
Ashton Visits Tehran on March 8
 
Ashton and Zarif Lead Negotiations in Vienna on March 18-19
 
 
Photo credits: Robin Wright, European External Action Service via Flickr
 
 

 

Khamenei on Nowruz: Questions Holocaust

            On March 21, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei questioned the Holocaust in a controversial address at the Imam Reza shrine marking Nowruz, Persian New Year. The “Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it's uncertain how it has happened,” he said. Khamenei lauded Iran for progress in science and technology despite tightened economic sanctions. He also  argued that the United States had failed to achieve its goals in the Middle East, especially in Syria. The following are translated excerpts from Khamenei's semi-official Twitter account.

Rouhani on Nowruz: Nuke Agreement Possible

           On March 20, President Hassan Rouhani expressed optimism for reaching a final nuclear agreement in a televised statement marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The following video is subtitled in English.

 

Nowruz Greetings: From US to Israel

           On March 20, government officials from the United States, Great Britain and Israel sent Nowruz greetings to the Iranian people. The Persian New Year marks the Spring Equinox and the first day of spring. President Barack Obama said, "This Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world—including a better relationship with the United States and the American people, rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect." The following are videos and transcripts of statements by top leaders. 

U.S. President Barack Obama
 
 
           Dorood.  As you and your families gather around the Nowruz table, I want to extend my best wishes on this new spring and new year.  As always, this holiday is a chance to give gratitude for your blessings and to reflect on our hopes for the year ahead.
 
           As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Since taking office, I’ve offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
 
           Last year, you—the Iranian people—made your voice heard when you elected Dr. Hassan Rouhani as your new president.  During his campaign, he pledged to strengthen Iran’s economy, improve the lives of the Iranian people and engage constructively with the international community—and he was elected with your strong support. 
 
           Last fall, I spoke with President Rouhani.  It was the first conversation between an American president and an Iranian leader since 1979.  I conveyed to President Rouhani my deep respect for the Iranian people, just as he expressed his respect for the American people.  And I told him that I firmly believe that we can address the serious disagreements between our governments, reduce distrust and begin to move beyond our difficult history. 
 
           Since then, we’ve made progress.  For years, the international community has had concerns that Iran’s nuclear program could lead to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, which would be a threat to the region and to the world.  Under the initial agreement we reached in November, the Iranian government has agreed to limit key parts of its nuclear program.  Along with our international partners, the United States is giving Iran some relief from sanctions.  Now we’re engaged in intensive negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution that resolves the world’s concerns with the Iranian nuclear program. 
 
           As I’ve said before, I’m under no illusions.  This will be difficult.  But I’m committed to diplomacy because I believe there is the basis for a practical solution.  Iran’s highest officials, including Supreme Leader Khamenei, have said that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.  So there is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.  Iran would have access to peaceful nuclear energy.  And we will have addressed—peacefully, with diplomacy—one of the greatest challenges to international peace and security. 
 
           A comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue—and an Iran that upholds universal rights, at home and abroad—would help move Iran along the new path that so many Iranians seek.  After all, throughout your history the talents and genius of the Iranian people have led to great achievements in literature and the arts, science and technology.  But the economic hardship that so many Iranians have endured in recent years—because of the choices of Iranian leaders—has deprived your country and the world of the extraordinary skills and contributions you have to offer.  And you deserve better.
 
           If Iran meets its international obligations, we know where the path of dialogue and greater trust and cooperation can lead.  It will mean more opportunities for Iranians to trade and forge ties with the rest of the world.  It means more economic growth and jobs for Iranians, especially young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world.  It will mean more opportunities for Iranian students to travel abroad and build new partnerships that help you realize your incredible potential.  In short, real diplomatic progress this year can help open up new possibilities and prosperity for the Iranian people for years to come.       
 
           That’s the message the Iranian people sent at the ballot box last year.  I hope that the entire Iranian government hears that message too.  Because for the first time in many years, we have the opportunity to start down a new path.  If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world—including a better relationship with the United States and the American people, rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect.
 
           Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak. 
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
      I'm privileged to join President Obama in wishing the people of Iran and all those who celebrate around the world -- from East Asia to the Persian Gulf region -- a happy, healthy, and prosperous Nowruz.
 
      All who celebrate Nowruz remember that it is not just an ancient tradition dating back over 3,000 years, but a time of renewal and hope. This season we reflect on the shared humanity that binds us together.
 
      My own family is stronger today because of the presence and love of Iranian-Americans, and I am proud of the family ties that we Americans have to Iran and its people. Here in America, we value the significant contributions that Iranian-Americans continue to make, whether it's in science, medicine, engineering, business, art, or so many other ways.
 
           On this Nowruz, we reaffirm our belief that strengthening cultural and academic ties between our two countries benefits our two peoples. Today, I am pleased to note that the Treasury Department will issue a new General License that will enhance educational ties between Iran and the United States through exchanges and the provision of new opportunities for Iranians to study in our country.
 
           It's not lost on any of us that the United States and Iran have endured harsh winters in our past, but gathering to welcome Spring and the New Year with friends and family is an opportunity to look forward to what can lie ahead with hard work and commitment. And it is our hope that the people of Iran will be able to fulfill their aspirations in their own society in the coming year.
 
           So as you gather with your loved ones around the Haft Seen Sofreh, the United States wishes you a joyous New Year filled with the hope for a better tomorrow.
 
           Nowruzetan Pirooz!
 
British Foreign Secretary William Hague
 
 
           I want to take this opportunity to wish all those celebrating around the world a happy Nowruz.
 
           Today people from many countries, communities and backgrounds, including here in the UK, will be gathering with their loved ones to celebrate the New Year and mark the start of spring.
 
           Nowruz signifies a new season and a time of harmony. It is an opportunity to look back on the year that has passed and look ahead to the year to come.
 
           So, however and wherever you are celebrating the New Year, I wish you health and happiness for the future.
 
           Nowruz is also a time for fresh starts. And in that spirit, I want to say to the Iranian people that the UK looks forward this year to improving relations with Iran.
 
           This is something our two governments have been working on over the last few months. Our diplomats are visiting each other’s countries after a gap of nearly two years.
 
           We are establishing new relationships and we’re talking to each other about a range of matters important to both our countries.
 
           Of course, this doesn’t mean we have resolved all our differences. We haven’t. There remain many pressing issues for us to address. But I firmly believe that constructive dialogue and improved co-operation between the UK and Iran is in all our interests.
 
           For that reason, we will continue our efforts to improve relations in ways that bring concrete benefits to both our peoples.
 
           Nowruzetan piruz.
 
Israeli President Shimon Peres
 

 

 

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