Last spring, President Barack Obama broke dramatically with three decades of U.S. foreign policy by delivering a recorded message on the Persian New Year to the government and people of Iran. In addressing the leadership of the "Islamic Republic of Iran" -- the first time a U.S. president has ever used Iran's official name -- Obama signaled that Washington recognized the legitimacy of the government born of the 1979 revolution. And in delivering his message on the occasion of Nowruz, an ancient Persian spring ritual, he showed that it sought a rebirth of relations between the two countries.
Several months after Washington finally came to terms with the legitimacy of the Iranian government however, that legitimacy was cast in serious doubt by a tainted presidential election that spurred dramatic street protests on a scale not seen since 1979. If anything, Obama's extended hand played a role in accentuating Iran's deep internal divides, proving that Tehran, not Washington, is the principal impediment to a rapprochement.
While Obama's objective in last year's message was to reassure the Iranian government about U.S. intentions, the focus of this year's message should be to reassure the Iranian people about them. Perhaps something like this:
Today I would like to send my warm greetings to all those around the world celebrating Nowruz. I was delighted to see the U.S. Congress recently pass a resolution recognizing the richness of this ancient ritual. During this time of reflection and renewal, I would especially like to convey my thoughts to the people of Iran.
Throughout the last eight months, we here in the United States have witnessed your courageous struggle for freedoms that we often take for granted. We were awed when, despite being dismissed by your own leaders as "dirt and dust," millions of you took to the streets, in silence, to demand your right to be counted. We join you in mourning the tragic deaths of your brave youth, like Neda Agha-Soltan and Ramin Pourandarjani, whose sacrifices will long be remembered.
Beginning with my inauguration speech over one year ago, my administration has made a sincere attempt to try and change the fraught relationship between our two governments. We have pursued a policy of engagement, without preconditions, on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interests.
In this context, last spring I wrote a private letter to your leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, making it clear that the United States was genuinely interested in a path of reconciliation. Though he responded unenthusiastically nearly one month later, I nonetheless followed up with another letter, to underscore the seriousness of our intentions.