From the early days of his political career, President Obama detailed his willingness to meet with the leaders of Iran to negotiate a political future.
“The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration is ridiculous,” he declared in 2007 during a CNN presidential primary debate with Hillary Clinton, asserting that he would willingly reach out to Iran and Syria to help solve problems in Iraq.
Now the president of the United States, Obama is working to sell the idea of his nuclear deal with Iran as well as his ideal of negotiating with rogue countries.
In a recent interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Obama detailed his understanding of the country’s history and his own understanding of the Iranian Supreme Leader.
“He’s a pretty tough read,” Obama said referring to letters from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that included “reminders of what he perceives as past grievances against Iran.”
Obama described the Supreme Leader as “deeply suspicious of the West,” “very insular” on political issues, and “deeply conservative.”
“[P]art of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war,” he said.
Obama explained the importance of the history between the two countries and its effect on the delicate nuclear treaty negotiations.
“So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past,” he said.
He insisted that all options continued to be on the table to prevent Iranians from developing nuclear weapons, including military options, but expressed the hope that things could change in that country without military conflict.
“[F]or us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies,” he explained. “And who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.”