In an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, President Obama spoke at length about his understanding of Iran, admitting that it would continue to sow discord around the world, but also expressing hope that the country would emerge as a peaceful leader in the Middle East.
Obama told Freidman that the leaders of Iran had a “historic opportunity” ahead of them as a result of the nuclear deal.
“The truth of the matter is that Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he said. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region.”
Obama encouraged Iran to stop threatening their neighbors in the region.
“It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity,” he said, expressing hope that the Iranian people would influence their leaders to change their public stance on these issues.
He pointed out the benefits of seeing beyond the traditional hatred and fear of the country because of their history of hatred toward America.
“This is maybe not something I’ve learned but has been confirmed — even with your enemies, even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes,” Obama said, pointing to America’s involvement in the 1950s to overthrow the Iranian government as well as the U.S. support of Saddam Hussein in the past.
“It in no way rationalizes the kinds of sponsorship from terrorism or destabilizing activities that they engage in, but I think that when we are able to see their country and their culture in specific terms, historical terms, as opposed to just applying a broad brush, that’s when you have the possibility at least of some movement,” he concluded.