Iran: Obama Must "Unclench" America's Fist

Iran isn't reaching out to grab President Barack Obama's "unclenched fist," but it isn't shoving it away, either.

(Al Arabiya)
In his first sit-down interview — which he symbolically granted to pan-Arab satellite network Al Arabiya — Mr. Obama said, "Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region... But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress."

"If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us," added the president.

CBS News' Leily Lankarani in Tehran reports Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has turned that comment around on Washington. "If there is any clenched fist in the world, it is the fist of the U.S.A.," Hasan Ghashghavi told a group of journalists Wednesday during a visit to Japan.

"Now, in the aftermath of President Obama's slogan of 'change,' the world is waiting to see what is in the unclenched fist of President Obama," said Ghashghavi.

Much as Mr. Obama needs to keep up the tough rhetoric about the Iranian government's insistence that the Holocaust never existed and that Israel should be "wiped off the map," leaders in Tehran cannot politically afford to suddenly back down from their stance that America is the "Great Satan".

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
But, along with the continued lunacy from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his minions, comes the clear indication that they do want to talk.

For instance, Lankarani reports that Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossien Elham said Tuesday: "We will watch to see whether a change has occurred or not, and we shall monitor the (political) ambience and will make our remarks in the right time."

Balance that on the fact that Elham was attending a conference called "Holocaust: A Sacred Lie of the West."

Indeed, getting the balance right in dealing with Iran may be one of the most valuable keys to unlocking some semblance of lasting peace in the Middle East. Senior American military commanders, politicians and dozens of "experts" have said direct talks with Iran are essential.

But "talks" make for little more than photo-opportunities. What matters are the deals that can be done, and there is only so much either side can offer. What Iran is making clear with its "wait and see" approach to Mr. Obama's overture is that the mere offer of a direct meeting will not be treated as a bargaining chip in the U.S. hand.

There is a battery of tough economic and travel sanctions against Iran that Mr. Obama could start to lift, slowly, if Iran makes concessions on the monitoring of its nuclear program or its material support for Islamic militant groups, for example. These are the "potential avenues for progress" Mr. Obama is talking about.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has expressed a desire for direct U.S.-Iran talks, told the Associated Press Tuesday that a ship intercepted last week in the Red Sea was carrying Iranian small arms, likely bound for militants in the Gaza Strip.

Mullen said there was nothing the U.S. military could do, legally, to stop the shipment, and Iran denies providing any material support to terrorist groups — so clearly there's much to "talk" about here.

In response to reports that Iran and the U.S. might soon hold direct talks in Europe, and that Ahmadinejad's top adviser Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi would represent Iran, Elham, the government spokesman, said he had seen the reports but had "no idea" about any talks.

Everyone says their hands are open. Now, one side has to make that first reach across a very, very wide table.
  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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