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He Gave Him an Inch . . .

In President Obama’s outstretched hand schtick on Iran, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spotted a tiny crack and decided to kick the door open.

“Change means that they should apologize to the Iranian nation and try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation,” he said in the speech broadcast live on Iranian television.

The catalog of crimes, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, stretched back decades, beginning with American support for the 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled until he was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The list included the downing of an Iran Air Airbus A300, which was shot down by the U.S. Navy‘s missile cruiser Vincennes over the Persian Gulf in 1988, killing 290. American military commanders said at the time that the passenger plane had been mistaken for an F-14 fighter jet, and defended the warship’s actions. America’s efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions were also listed.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also questioned the United States deployment of forces in many places around the world, apparently demanding that the forces be withdrawn. “Who has asked them to come and interfere in the affairs of nations?” he asked, according to Reuters.

From outstretched hands to dirty hands.

Tehran is not interested in anything resembling the West’s idea of diplomacy.  Nor are Iranian leaders (despite Ahmadinejad’s litany) terribly concerned with this or that American transgression – it’s the very idea of America that makes the U.S. “the Great Satan” in Khomeinist terms. However, Tehran is adept at using the twin Western fetishes of “engagement” and self-flagellation as a means of both reframing the diplomatic dynamic and buying time for weapons production.

In addressing the mullahs as traditional state actors (who can occasionally be “unhelpful”), Barack Obama’s concessionary speech helped shift the benchmark for “reasonable” toward Iran in the public’s mindset. Ahmadinejad, now elevated to the level of respectable statesman, is toying with the American president in public – while centrifuges spin.



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