In the fevered speculation now taking place over whether the Trump administration will truly “nix” the 2015 Irannuclear deal when it comes up for renewal later this spring, another, equally seismic shift in U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic has gone largely unnoticed. On March 20, America formally reclaimed its historic role as a champion of the Iranian people.
That date, which marks the Persian new year, or Nowruz, has been recognized by every U.S. president since Gerald Ford with an official message. It is a powerful rhetorical device — one that has been used to great effect in the past by both Democrats and Republicans to highlight the repressive nature of the Iranian regime, and to draw a distinction between the current Islamic republic and the country’s storied Persian past.
Under the Obama administration, however, this outreach fell victim to official engagement with Iran’s ayatollahs. President Obama’s first Nowruz message, issued in March of 2009, properly called upon the Iranian regime to abandon extremism and “take its rightful place in the community of nations through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.”
But over time, his administration focused less and less upon the plight and potential of the Iranian people, and more and more on ingratiating itself with the repressive government that ruled over them. By the time of its final Nowruz message in 2016, the Obama White House contented itself simply with expressing hopes that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers had created the basis for “progress between the Islamic Republic and the international community, including the United States.”