Hope and Change in Iran

George Stephanopoulos interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on ABC this morning. To say that he never laid a glove on the agile Ahmadinejad would be an understatement. As I’ve said before, the mullahs are playing Barack Obama like a violin; their strategy came through once more in the ABC interview. Obama has famously promised to meet with Iran’s leaders “without preconditions,” but that offer isn’t good enough. It’s now Iran that wants preconditions–”a clear-cut framework for talks”–before it will do Obama the honor of meeting with him.

Some excerpts from the interview:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you share [Obama's] vision [of friendly relations]?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You need to appreciate that the American administration, 29 years ago, unilaterally cut its relations with Iran. In the past 29 years, different U.S. administrations have opposed the Iranian people.

Now they say that we have given up that enmity. That’s fine. We have welcomed such comments. But an administration which, up until yesterday, was saying that I’m going to kill you, and today says that I’m not going to kill you?

Yes, the U.S. “unilaterally” severed relations with Iran 29 years ago. That’s because Iran–led by Ahmadinejad and others–was holding more than 50 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a fact that Ahmadinejad forgets to mention.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So there is change, though. What will Iran do in response? The United States has said that the United States is ready to talk with Iran and the other great powers — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Are you prepared to sit down at those talks without preconditions?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, previously, first of all, I sent a congratulatory message to Mr. Obama. This was a major decision, although the Iranian people were very much dismayed with the conduct of previous U.S. administrations, and I was criticized here at home in Iran.

Nevertheless, I did that. I am yet to receive a response.

With the European group and the American group, we will talk. We have announced as much, that we are going to negotiate. But…

STEPHANOPOULOS: When will you join those talks?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): … again, based on justice and mutual respect.

Well, after everything is said and done — well, planning needs to be made, and some timetables need to be set. We believe in talking, in negotiating, based on sincerity and respect and justice. But the U.S. administration severed its relations with us.

It was the Carter administration that severed relations in 1980 in response to the Embassy hostage-taking. Ahmadinejad understands this history–he was there–but Stephanopoulos seems ignorant of the facts:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that was the past administration. And now President Obama said he is prepared to sit down, along with the other European powers, without any preconditions. And it sounds to me as if you’re suggesting now Iran is the one with the preconditions, echoing, in fact, the policy of the last U.S. administration.

Unbelievable. Ahmadinejad must have thought he was talking to an idiot.

Are there preconditions or not? Why not sit down right now with the U.S. and the European powers to discuss the nuclear program?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Last year we proposed a package of proposals for talks. Everyone knows that in this year many changes, developments have unfolded on the international stage. Many new issues have been added to the agenda, so to speak, and we are reconsidering our proposed package. We are adding new issues to the realm, if you will, of the talks. And we are going to make that public as soon as possible. We are always ready to talk…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not now?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): … with no preconditions.

But wait, there’s more:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you want to talk on the basis of respect. The president has expressed his respect for the Islamic Republic of Iran, and he said he is ready to talk. I just want to know, when will Iran sit down with the United States and the European powers to discuss the nuclear program?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, the nuclear issue of ours is a special issue. We think that the nuclear issue needs to be resolved in the context of the agency and regulations.

We are just utilizing our legal rights.

I have no reservations when it comes to talking.

As long as we’re not talking about limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons development.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re ready to talk without preconditions?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No, no. We should just have a clear-cut framework for talks. The agenda should be clear.

So there it is: Iran is willing to talk with President Obama–someday!–but only in the context of a “clear-cut framework” and a “clear agenda” that does not include Iran’s nuclear program, a “special issue” as to which the only relevant authority is the U.N.

Ahmadinejad signed off by echoing Obama’s trademark call for hope and change. Am I wrong to detect a note of ridicule?

I have sent a message to Mr. Obama myself. We welcome change. We are praying to the Almighty for that. And we will help to bring change about.

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