The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 10, 2013

Iran diplomacy overtures: U.S. may trust but must verify

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— Iran is our friend.

No, really, that’s what they’re saying.

Yeah, that Iran, the same one that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in 1979 and 1980; the same Iran whose supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, once said, “Americans are the great Satan, the wounded snake”; the same Iran whose president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury,” then said, “We’ve never been anti-Semitic,” and accused the United States of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in order to save Israel.

That Iran.

Now Iran has a new president. Ahmadinejad is out, Hassan Rouhani is in, the new president taking the oath of office in early August.

In September, Rouhani sat down with NBC’s Ann Curry and said his country was not planning to build a nuclear bomb, and he would be willing to sit down with President Obama to open dialogue with the West.

The meeting hasn’t happened, but Obama and Rouhani did speak on the phone for 15 minutes recently, discussing Iran’s nuclear program. It marked the first contact between U.S. and Iranian leaders since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Rouhani even tweeted about the call, which apparently was quite convivial, with Iran’s president urging Obama to “have a nice day,” and with our president saying thank you in Farsi.

As if that weren’t enough, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met one on one for a half hour not long ago.

During an appearance before the United Nations’ General Assembly, Rouhani assured everyone that Iran poses “absolutely no threat to the world,” then later said of the United States, “The atmosphere is quite different from the past. Our goal is the shared interest between the two nations. Our goal is resolving problems, our goal is step-by-step creating trust between the governments and peoples.”

Next thing you know, Obama and Rouhani will be besties, having Facetime chats and exchanging birthday cards.

The only problem is, while Obama is in charge in this country, Rouhani is not in the driver’s seat in his.

That role falls to Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who is Iran’s supreme leader. He’s the one calling the shots in Iran, not Rouhani. And he wasn’t entirely pleased with Rouhani making nice with Obama.

“We are skeptical of Americans and have no trust in them at all,” said Khamenei. “The American government is untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker.’

Given Congress’ recent inaction in the face of the government shutdown, I’ll concede the “illogical” bit, but the rest of Khamenei’s words are troubling.

So, too is the fact the attitude of the Iranian people seems to mirror that of Khamenei. In the wake of the Rouhani-Obama phone call, Iranians leaving weekly prayers in Tehran chanted “Death to America,” and burned U.S. and Israeli flags.

That’s not nice. And here I thought we were going to be friends.

I, for one, have never chanted death to anybody. That’s not our style here. I confess I have wished painful boils and balky bowels on a few people, but never death. Death to Brussels sprouts, sure. Death to the common cold, of course. But to an entire nation, no.

Just what does that mean, “Death to America?” Do they want to kill each and every American citizen, including the roughly 2.6 million Muslims in this country, or do they simply want to kill the idea of America, its soul, its essence?

America is much more than a nation, it is a way of thinking, a way of life. Perhaps the folks in Iran hate the concept of freedom and individual liberties. Or maybe they’re just hacked about Miley Cyrus and the whole twerking phenomenon.

At any rate, they’d be well-served to knock off the “Death to America,” stuff if they want to be friends with us. We’ve been down this road before. If you want to negotiate and make peace, fine. But if you want to play rough, we can do that pretty well, too.

We should welcome the diplomatic overtures from Rouhani as a sign that frosty relations between the two countries may well be thawing. But we should recall the words of Khamenei, as well.

By the way, gentlemen, nice capes. Is that sheepskin? Oh, and what big teeth you have.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.