MESOP : OBAMA = STEP BY STEP TOWARDS TEHRAN – The US president wished Iranians a happy Nowruz in a video message

 JON STONE   Friday 20 March 2015 – THE INDEPENDENT – Relations between Iran and the United States could improve dramatically over the next year, Barack Obama has signalled. In a video message wishing the Iranian people a happy Iranian new year, Mr Obama said the two countries’ relations were entering an “early spring”. But he warned that hawkish forces on both sides would try to undermine improving relations, likely a reference to Republicans in the US Congress and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“For decades our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear: now it is early spring. We have a chance, a chance to make progress that will benefit our countries and the world for many years to come,” he said in his Nowruz greeting. Mr Obama’s reference to “early spring” is an invocation of the writing of the great Persian poet Hafez. President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013 and has styled himself as a reformer President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013 and has styled himself as a reformer He said the United States and Iran had a historic chance to improve their relations over the course of 2015.The US president praised the Iranian government for rolling back some of its nuclear programme and said both sides had been acting in good faith.

“This year we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries,” he said.

“Just over a year ago we reach an initial understanding regarding Iran’s nuclear programme and both sides have kept our commitments.

“Iran has halted progress on its nuclear programme and ever rolled it back in some areas. The international community, including the United States has provided Iran with some relief from sanctions. “The days and weeks ahead will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress but gaps remain and there are people in both our countries and beyond who oppose a diplomatic resolution.”His attempt to reach out to the Middle Eastern country is at odds with a recent intervention by congressional Republicans. The opposition party, which controls both house of the US congress, unilaterally invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address American representatives earlier this month.Mr Netanyahu, a right-wing hawk, warned against the deal being pursued by the US executive and claimed that Iran was on a march of “conquest, subjugation and terror”. Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress “Two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!” he said at the time.

Senior congressmen from the Democratic Party boycotted the speech in protest of the nature of the invitation of Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Obama criticised the prime minister’s “divisive rhetoric”.Mr Netanyhu won a surprise victory in last week’s Israeli elections after making controversial and racially-charged comments about Israel’s Arab-ethnicity citizens