Obama, Citing His Cuba Trip, Tells Iran: 'It Is Possible For Old Adversaries to Start Down a New Path’

By Patrick Goodenough | March 21, 2016 | 4:21 AM EDT

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Sunday, March 20, 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei poses for a portrait prior to delivering his message for the Iranian New Year. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

(CNSNews.com) – In a Persian new year (Nowruz) message to the Iranian people, President Obama pointed to his visit to Cuba, now underway, as “a reminder that even after decades of mistrust, it is possible for old adversaries to start down a new path.”

But his sentiments brought a cold response Sunday from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who accused the U.S. of reneging on the recently-negotiated nuclear agreement, and of trying to restore its “previous hegemony” over Iran.

“From one hand they send a new year message and on the other hand they have kept economic sanctions [in place against Iran],” he said in a televised Nowruz speech. “This is enmity.”

In what has become a custom each spring since his rebuffed offer of a “new beginning” in 2009, Obama wished the Iranian people “Nowruz Mubarak” – but this year he also expressed the hope that in the wake of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement, “now, for the first time in decades, there’s a chance for a different future.”

After highlighting potential economic benefits for Iranians from sanctions relief as part of the JCPOA, Obama said that although the U.S. and Iranian governments “continue to have serious disagreements, the fact that we are now talking to each other on a regular basis, for the first time in decades, gives us an opportunity, a window, to resolve other issues.”

Obama then pointed to his “historic visit to Cuba” this week.

“For decades our two governments were locked in conflict,” he said. “Not long ago my visit to Havana would have been unthinkable. This week I’ll focus on how we can build more trade and ties between our two peoples,” he said.

“My visit will be a reminder that a reminder that even after decades of mistrust, it is possible for old adversaries to start down a new path.”

In his speech delivered in the city of Mashhad, burial site of a prominent early Shi’ite imam, Khamenei said that despite the JCPOA the U.S. government uses tricks and ruses to prevent Iran from benefiting from sanctions relief.

He said the U.S. Treasury was acting in such a way that big corporations and banks in the West were leery of doing deals with Iran, fearful of upsetting the United States.

Khamenei accused the Americans of “spreading a mentality that the Iranians have been driven to a crossroad, they should either suffer from the U.S. pressures, or opt for going along with demands of the global arrogance.”

The U.S. was trying to imply that Iran has just two choices – come to terms with the U.S. or suffer economic hardship, he said, alluding again to Obama’s Nowruz message. 

Instead, the Islamic republic has designated the new year the “year of the resistance economy.”

“The Iranian nation must take measures to no longer be vulnerable to the enemies’ threats,” Khamenei said.

“[Armed] with the economy of resistance, one can combat unemployment and stagnation, curb inflation, resist the enemies’ threats and create myriad opportunities for the country.”

Khamenei also said it was possible that the next U.S. president would not meet even the minimum obligations agreed to by the Obama administration in the JCPOA.

Those competing for the White House were trying to outdo with each other in their vilification of Iran in their speeches, he said, “and this is a sign of hostility.”

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter highlighted Iranian behavior of concern to the U.S. despite the JCPOA.

“While the nuclear accord is a good deal for preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, in other respects our concerns with Iran persist,” he said.

Pointing to Iran’s treatment of ten U.S. sailors detained in the Persian Gulf last January – in an incident exploited for propaganda purposes – Carter said, “As I made clear then, Iran’s actions were outrageous, unprofessional and inconsistent with international law.”

“And nothing we’ve learned about the circumstances of this incident since then changes that fact,” he told the panel.

“It’s because of Iran’s recklessness and destabilizing behavior in that part of the world that DOD remains full speed ahead in our investments, our planning, and our posture to ensure that we deter Iran’s aggression, deter its malign influence and uphold our ironclad commitments to our regional friends and allies, especially Israel, to whom we maintain an unwavering and unbreakable commitment,” Carter said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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