President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.
This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:
“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”
He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:
“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”
Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.
As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.