Friday, 20 March 2009

The children of Adam are limbs of each other

The Children of Adam are limbs of each other
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a man.

That is the full passage from which President Obama quoted in his Nowruz message to the Iranian people last night.

The selection of Saadi was richly symbolic. That ancient poet, peripatetic and richly aware of the cultural span of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia represents an outward looking Iran. President Obama's message is that Iran is a nation of travellers, story-tellers, traders, that has become alienated from its rightful place in the universal brotherhood of man.

Will it work? In and of itself it can not work of course. A more important message that President Obama is sending is 'I am different.' This is not just the same aggressive US government. This White House is serious about doing business. We won't punish your cooperation by rejecting you as a member of an 'axis of evil.' We will not ignore any genuine plea for engagement. There are staggering hurdles still to overcome and the US may need to acknowledge past errors clearer to make headway- errors in both recent and more distant history. That will all come out in the wash.

Ultimately though, this message was a reiteration of a basic message. The US approach is now based on diplomacy and negotiation rather than isolation and threat. The ball is now firmly in Iran's court. How will the Ayatollah respond?

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