March 21, 2009

Memo to President on Iran

Rick Francona, Principal


Date: 21 March 2009

Subject: Iran

To: President Barack Obama

I am sure that you have appointed capable and experienced advisors on a wide range of issues facing our country. I believe Dennis Ross, a respected diplomat and scholar on Middle East affairs, is part of your team. I urge you to listen to them. Of course, if your recent videotape to the Iranians was his idea, fire him.

Why do I say that? Because your recent attempts have fallen on deaf ears, specifically, these deaf ears.

This is not the first time you have demonstrated the same naivete about Iranian and Middle East issues. Almost immediately after assuming office, you granted your first television interview to the UAE-based Arabic language network al-Arabiyah. Your comments were immediately ridiculed by numerous Iranian officials, including their current president, past president, a vice president, the foreign minister and several government spokesmen.

When I critiqued your performance during the al-Arabiyah interview, I ended with this statement: "All President Obama can do now is make concessions, the exact wrong thing to do. While I am sure he views his actions as bold and strong, in the region this makes him look weak...."

This time is no different. Although you cleverly aimed your comments at the Iranian people, it was taken by the Iranian government as yet another clumsy outreach attempt on your part. The reaction from Tehran, as last time, was swift and predictable. The words were almost identical.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - the real power in Iran - characterized your outreach as "hollow words." He wants to see you make some fundamental changes in our policy before he is willing to consider a change in his stance. Those changes specifically include an agreement that Iran's nuclear program is not a topic for compromise.

Oh, by the way, Mr. President, he also wants you to stop American "unconditional support" for Israel, quit claiming Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, release frozen Iranian assets and lift sanctions.

In his mind, he has now squarely placed the ball in your court. Unfortunately, since you failed to heed my earlier advice, he is right to think that. The rest of the world is now watching for your next move. You have painted yourself into a corner. Your choice is either to appear to maintain the hard line or to make concessions.

That's actually no choice. You cannot make concessions to this regime. You should have put the ball in their court, rather than setting yourself up for a policy failure.

As I told you before, I realize that you think you are showing strength by reaching out to the Iranian leadership. However, they regard it as a sign of weakness and as willingness to compromise on your part. Doing so twice only confirms it.

You have my number - call.