To whom should he send it? The main question is not what is said in the letter but whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will convey it to the people of Iran. Obviously, Obama wants to address them in the first place. Although he seem to make clear that regime change is no longer an option, the Iranians should compare their “relatively low standard of living with that of some more prosperous neighbors and contemplate the benefits of losing its pariah status in the west,” as the Guardian wrote yesterday.
But is that the way to win more sympathy for the US (plenty of which is already there)? “Although the tone is conciliatory, it also calls on Iran to end what the US calls state sponsorship of terrorism.” The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demands, in the meantime, an apology to the Iranian people for “the crimes they (the US) have committed against us” referring to the CIA coup d’état in 1953 (“Operation Ajax”) when the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (the first and last of its kind) had been toppled and the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi re-instituted.
He also mentioned the 1988 shooting down of the Iranian passenger Airbus A300 by the US Navy’s guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes over the Persian Gulf. Two-hundred and ninety Iranian passengers died. In contrast to the former (Madeleine Albright in fact apologized for Operation Ajax in 2000), the US never apologized for the latter (although, in 1996, both countries reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice. As part of the settlement, the US agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed).
It is hoped that Iran is about to apologize as well, for example for its 444 days siege of the US embassy in Tehran which lasted from the 4th of November 1979 to January 20, 1981, the very day of the swearing-in of incoming President Ronald Reagan. It would really help normalizing the relationship between the arch-enemies. The expected festivities (I am afraid, well-organized mass demonstrations) on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution (in February) and later the upcoming presidential election campaign in Iran might prevent mutual gestures of good-will. But we’ll see.