W. Scott Harrop has an interesting piece on the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs. In “Obama’s Iran Policy: Mutual Respect Matters,” (pdf), he traces President Barack Obama’s rhetoric about mutual respect with Iran, starting from the campaign, through the famous Norouz message, and up to the present.
Harrop, a faculty expert on Iran at the University of Virginia, also searches out the idea of “mutual respect” in Obama’s personal biography and even its appearances in his writings. Harrop notes the use of the phrase throughout the history of the Islamic Republic, from the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But Harrop concludes that the policies pursued by the administration don’t match up with Iranian expectations of “mutual respect” (my emphasis):
In his Administration’s zeal to obtain greater international support for further sanctions, President Obama vowed to ensure that the “international message” to Iran was unified and unmistakable. Yet he was apparently tone deaf about how that message of pressure was actually received inside Iran. Obama might rationalize that “biting” Iran economically is better than military force, but he disregards how such pressures will be deemed by Iran as contradicting professions of respect. More likely, they are driving Iran away from the table, or at best, making it more difficult.
The key problem reduces to not comprehending what “mutual respect” means to Iran. Sanctions, pressures, and threats are inimical to the ideal of mutual respect — a sure fire way to demonstrate that seemingly pleasing words to a Western ear will be rendered as a trick, a disrespectful deceit, to an Iranian ear.