By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
TEHRAN - Iranians appear to be putting as much stock in President-elect Barack Obama’s slogan of “change” as Americans voters, seeing his victory as an opening for possible renewed relations between the two countries, which have been cut off for nearly thirty years.
“If Mr. Barack Obama remains committed to his motto, we will be hopeful that there is a real change in America,” Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told foreign reporters on Wednesday at the 15th International Festival and Exhibition of Press and News Agencies in Tehran.
“We can say one of the great roles of the election in the US was correcting the image of the US in people’s minds,” Mottaki said. “So as you could see, the slogan and motto of change was appreciated by a great number of people across the United States . . .The question is whether those who have given this motto can stay on the position of change or not.”
Mottaki said that Iran would have to wait to see if Obama would make good on his campaign pledge to meet with Iranian leaders to resolve issues including the international impasse over Iran’s controversial nuclear program and its alleged support for the anti-Israeli militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
“This was offered by Obama during the campaign,” Mottaki said. “Generally, American presidents, after they enter the White House, they take different stances. We prefer to wait and see in the coming days what will really happen.”
Nevertheless, Obama is the talk of the town in Tehran, where the US election was followed very closely by Iranian media. While some Iranians at the conference expressed skepticism that Obama would be able to soften US policy towards Iran, a majority expressed admiration for Obama, whose middle name sounds too good to be true here.
“Is his name really Barack HusseinObama?” several onlookers asked a visiting American journalist.
“I love you Obama!” a student wrote in a notebook left for comments at the American booth at the media exhibition.
Obama said during the campaign that he would meet leaders of foes of the United States, including Iran, without preconditions, although he later said he would not simply sit down with American enemies without careful preparation.
Two days after the election, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Obama congratulating him on his victory, the first time an Iranian president has congratulated a new president since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States were cut that year following the seizure of American diplomats who were held hostage for 444 days.
In the letter, Ahmadinejad also urged Obama to abandon what he said were America's "war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations" and to reverse years of pro-Israeli policy. Obama responded to reporters that he would review the letter and respond in detail, but that "Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease,” and that any development of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable.
Three days after the US election, the Iranian government invited reporters from several American publications, including the Boston Globe, to attend the exhibition for the first time. Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance downplayed the role of the election in its decision to invite Americans, saying that the invitation would have gone out regardless of the victor. But French and German journalists said they received their invitation at least a month earlier.
Many Iranians clearly saw the presence of an American journalist at the media exhibition as a sign of a possible thawing of relations.
“This is unprecedented,” Ali Reza Khakpour said at the American booth, where surprised onlookers took pictures and video of the American flag, a taboo image here for 30 years. “I am just keeping my fingers crossed that they will rectify. The light at the end of the tunnel can be seen.”
A 40-year-old Iranian who lives in Los Angeles and declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal from the Iranian government expressed shock and delight at seeing an American journalist attending.
“The starting point of the change,” he said. “Within two weeks of the election, this is a change. There is a huge hope that we can renew what we had before.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.