by Jasmin Ramsey
Amazing things have been happening on the US-Iran front, which began to defrost following Hassan Rouhani’s presidential inauguration this summer. I’ve listed some of them in my last two reports for IPS News (here and here) but today’s news is monumental.
You’ve probably heard something about a letter exchange between Presidents Obama and Rouhani. Well, this has not only been confirmed by both administrations, we’re also learning some of the details now, which I touch on below. Before I do so it’s worth noting that after news of the letter exchange and ahead of the United Nations General Assembly next week where Rouhani will give a speech, Iran released today a group of political prisoners, including lawyer and human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh, who ended a 49-day hunger strike in December 2012 after Iran’s authorities lifted a travel ban on her 12-year-old daughter. Here is Sotoudeh’s interview in English with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and some truly heart-warming photographs of her reunion with her family.
As shown in the clip above, Ann Curry has also conducted Rouhani’s first interview with an American news outlet as Iran’s president, which will air on NBC’s Nightly News tonight at 6:30 EST. (I think Curry hasn’t been to Iran since 2011 when she interviewed former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.) Only bits of the interview have been released so far, and while Rouhani won’t likely say anything earth-shattering so early on, he did describe the “tone” of Obama’s letter as “positive and constructive“. Of course, yesterday Obama also described Rouhani in a positive light. “There are indications that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States, in a way that we haven’t seen in the past. And so we should test it,” Obama told Telemundo. That’s a dramatic change in tone from White House statements marking Rouhani’s inauguration.
All this is good news and there’s going to be a lot of expert analysis on what it all means, but I can’t get into it now as I’m getting ready to travel to New York where I will be reporting on Obama’s and Rouhani’s speeches from the UN, among other things. For now, here’s an excerpt from Paul Pillar’s “The Stars Align In Tehran” (written before today’s exciting news), to keep in mind as these developments unfold:
The late Abba Eban, the silver-tongued Israeli foreign minister, once famously said that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The circumstances, and Palestinian preferences and policies, that underlay his remark changed greatly long ago. But his apothegm might apply to much of the history of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. It would, tragically, apply all the more if the current opportunity is missed, either because of the ammunition being supplied to Iranian hardliners or because the side led by the United States simply does not put on the negotiating table the sanctions relief necessary to strike a deal.
Photo Credit: ISNA/Abdolvahed Mirzazadeh