Friday, January 23, 2009
An Open Letter from the Supreme Leader to the President Elect
Ali Hoseyni Khāmenei, Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution to
Barack Obama, President-elect of the United States of America
Dear Senator Obama,
Congratulations on your victory in the presidential election. During the campaign you said that if elected, you would talk with the Iranian leadership without preconditions. I hope you will follow through on this campaign promise. To set the agenda, here is what I believe we should talk about, including some things on which we will have to agree to disagree, and some things on which we can agree.
1. Satan and Evil The leaders of both of our countries have been guilty of demonizing the other. Let’s talk about how to stop it. Beginning with our revolution in 1978, Iranian leaders have found it useful to whip up domestic political support by branding America as the Great Satan. President Bush, for the same reason, found it useful to brand Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil. But please understand this: although our current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is given to rhetorical excesses neither he nor Ayatollah Khomeini whose Farsi words he was merely repeating verbatim, has ever said anything that can be accurately translated into English as “Israel will be wiped off the map.”
This is a mis-translation (apparently by the New York Times). If you don’t believe me, please ask Hooman Majd, the Iranian-American who has been the simultaneous Farsi-to English translator for several Iranian presidential speeches at the UN, including those of Ahmadinejad. During Majd’s interview with Terry Gross on her Fresh Air radio show of September 25, 2008, Majd says that a more accurate English translation of Khomeini’s words is “Israel will vanish from the pages of time.”
2. Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah Also please understand this: the UN’s 1947 decision to partition Palestine and create the state of Israel is seen by Iranians and most other people in the Middle East as a profound injustice — a morally indefensible attempt by Europe, Russia and the USA to expiate their guilt over the Holocaust not at their own expense, but at the expense of the Palestinian people. The people of the Middle East, including the Iranian people, believe that Israel was the illegitimate creation of outside powers, and has no right to exist. And because we believe this, we hope and expect that it will eventually vanish from the pages of time.
The question of Israel’s legitimacy is one on which the American and Iranian people will have to agree to disagree. However, we can agree that this question should not be resolved by force. Iran has given military support to Hezbollah and Hamas — enemies of Israel. America has given military support to Israel — enemies of Hamas and Hezbollah. By arming our respective allies, neither of us is contributing to a solution. This should stop, and we should talk about how to stop it. And neither of us should require the other to accept our position on the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine as a pre-condition of starting these talks.
3. Iraq In Iraq we share some common objectives: first, the withdrawal of American troops as quickly as possible without reversing the progress that has been made in recent months towards security and political reconciliation. In the longer term, we share the objective of seeing Iraq evolve into a state that is at peace with itself and its neighbours.
However, Iranians and Americans do not agree on the political culture that Iraq should embrace. While you and we agree that nations should be governed by law, you believe that the laws should be decided by the people, whereas Iranians believe that the laws have been given to us by the Almighty and cannot be altered or undone by the will of the people. This is another thing on which Americans and Iranians must agree to disagree.
As for Iraq, however, we can agree that the decision between these two legal and political cultures should be not be imposed by either Iran or America, but should be decided by the Iraqis themselves. If Iraqis decide for an Islamic state, America must accept this. The same applies to Iran in case Iraq decides for democracy. Our talks should lead to an agreement on how to make this happen. And neither of us should require the other to accept our position on the role of democracy in Iraq as a pre-condition for starting these talks.
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