President-elect Barack Obama has not yet been inaugurated, but some Iranians are already losing their optimism that he will change policy toward Iran after 30 years of estrangement.
An initial groundswell of enthusiasm among some Iranians has been replaced by caution and concern.
By Hadi Nili
The Washington Times
“Obama” means “he is with us” in Persian. But an Iranian weekly tabloid recently ran a headline saying “He is not with us.”
“Nothing will basically change with Obama,” said a foreign editor for one of Iran’s most prominent newspapers, who asked that only his first name, Reza, be used. “He is one of them; someone from the system, despite his slogans.”
The reported choice last week of Dennis Ross as the Obama administration’s Iran coordinator also is likely to be unpopular in the Iranian government. Mr. Ross is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that Iranians regard as extremely close to Israel. Israel has described Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran maintains is for peaceful purposes only, as a threat.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.(AFP/File/Atta Kenare)
Keyhan, a hard-line newpaper close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called Mr. Ross, a former Middle East negotiator, “a Zionist lobbyist in the U.S. administration.”
“Iranians have serious misgivings about Dennis Ross because of his close ties to the pro-Israel lobby … not to mention Ross’ recent writings that push for tough actions against Iran while de-prioritizing the Israel-Palestinian issue,” said Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former Iranian nuclear-issues negotiator.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama promised to open direct talks with Iran without preconditions. However, foreign-affairs specialists here predict he will focus first on domestic issues, particularly the economic crisis.
“To the extent that Obama is willing to devote energy to Iran, he will certainly consider the issue of how to respond to signals being sent by the current government,” said Nasser Hadian, a professor of international relations at Tehran University and a former lecturer at Columbia University in New York. “This will certainly take time, and he is in no hurry to respond to a request for talks.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, like many other Iranians, publicly expressed doubts before the election that a black man could win the presidency. However, after the Nov. 4 vote, the Iranian leader sent the president-elect a letter of congratulations, which also reminded Mr. Obama of his “chance for change, which is given to him by the vote of American citizens.”