Commentary Magazine


Seeing Obama’s Hand and Raising . .

MUNICH–In the first interview of his administration, president Obama said, “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” To judge by the remarks of Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani at the 45th annual Munich Security Conference, Iran is meeting Obama’s extended hand with a hand gesture of its own — the middle finger.

Larijani delivered a prize rant before an audience of American and European security types with Jim Jones, the new U.S. national security adviser, sitting front and center. Echoing the refrain of other Iranian officials, he said he would be perfectly happy to negotiate with the United States — as long as the U.S. recognized Iran’s right to go nuclear, discontinued its support for Israel, pulled all of its bases out of the Middle East, and apologized for a litany of historical sins ranging from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to the U.S. role in overthrowing Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953. He even wanted the U.S. to apologize for actions it didn’t commit, such as “encouraging Saddam Hussein to attack Iran.” This led naturally into an anti-Israel diatribe complete with pictures that Larijani held up depicting Palestinian “victims” of Israeli “atrocities.”

Having recited a long litany of America’s supposed sins, Larijani demanded: “Now with a change in tone and a few media postures, do you honestly expect this pain to go away?”

If you overlook his sophistry and his mendacity, he actually raises a good point: Why would anyone in the Obama administration expect that Iran will make substantial concessions to us based on nothing more than the new president’s willingness to negotiate? At the moment there isn’t much of an incentive for Iran to negotiate seriously because we have not managed to inflict much pain through our weak economic sanctions or any other method.

Listening to Larijiani, I was struck that he displayed the kind of passion and conviction that is utterly lacking in the comments of European politicians. They are so civilized, so ready to understand the other, so eager to be reasonable and to avoid offending anyone (other than occasionally, America). But how can they begin to understand a representative of a regime that denies the Holocaust and wants to stage another one?  The irony is that Larijani is supposed to be one of the Iranian “moderates.” Imagine what the hardliners sound like.