President Barack Obama's message of Change has reached Iran, but Iran is skeptical. Change is welcomed, they say, as long as it's a real, substantive change and not just political maneuvering.
Formal communication between the Obama administration and Iran officially commenced with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter of congratulations, released one day after the election on November 6, 2008. The letter advised Obama to stay true to his change mantra, as mandated by both America and the nations of the world, and repeated the word "respect" three times.
In his inaugural address, Obama offered the Muslim world "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Then on January 27, 2009, only a week after taking office, President Obama gave an interview to Al Arabiya TV and repeatedly emphasized the magic word, respect. He said his administration would "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating", and added, "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. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach."
The response from Iran was immediate. The following day, Ahmadinejad gave a speech to a crowd of thousands while touring the town of Kermanshah, which was also broadcast live on Iranian television. The majority of the speech responded to Obama's recent overtures and campaign promise of Change. News of the speech, with its criticism of U.S. imperialism and demands that the U.S. apologize for past crimes against Iran, made headlines worldwide, yet the complaints are nothing new. Iranian officials have been raising these issues for years, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself has done so from practically the moment he was elected back in 2005.
The significance of the key words "mutual respect" cannot be overstated – it's been a signature phrase of the Islamic Republic for years. Former UN Ambassador Javad Zarif used the line regularly, as did Iran's former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi, and former Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. Ahmadinejad even used the phrase in an interview with state media while he was still Mayor of Tehran and running for President. In December 2007, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reminded, "As senior Iranian officials have reiterated, we welcome any rational approach that is based on mutual respect."
President Obama's use of the phrase echoes Iranian rhetoric so closely it's remarkable:
"We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
"We call for positive and constructive dialogue on the basis of mutual respect."
- Iran's former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi, January 2004
"We believe in existing alongside, and forging relations with, all countries. . .on the basis of mutual respect and interests."
- Iran's former President Mohammad Khatami, February 2000
In a July 2008 interview with NBC News, Ahmadinejad asked if the U.S. was beginning "a new approach; in other words, mutual respect, cooperation, and justice? Or is this approach a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people but in a new guise?"
Foreign Ministry spokesman Dr. Hamidreza Assefi elaborated on Iran's concept of "mutual respect" in a May 2003 session with local reporters:
"Mutual respect has a clear meaning. Iran expects the US to follow the principle of 'mutual respect' toward the Islamic Republic by refraining from interfering in Iran's internal affairs, accepting the principle of equality, and living up to the requirements of mutual respect. However, the US officials have shown over the past months that they are not committed to pursuing mutual respect in dealing with Iran and have no belief in the principle."
Part of Iran's idea of "respect" includes addressing and correcting past behavior. Iran's list of grievances have been raised repeatedly over the years, yet many (if not all) of the complaints Ahmadinejad refers to in his speech are still unfamiliar to much of the public.
Many Americans still haven't heard about the U.S. role in overthrowing Iran's popular, democratically elected government in 1953; its shooting down of the Iran Air Flight 655 passenger plane in the Persian Gulf in 1988, killing all 290 people on board; or its support for Saddam Hussein as Iraq launched an aggressive eight-year war with Iran, using banned chemical weapons on its people.
Fewer still are aware that in 1981, about 70 high ranking Iranian officials, including the President, Premier and Chief Justice, were assassinated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq [MEK] Iranian opposition group in a bombing of state headquarters. The MEK, who have also murdered American military personnel and civilians, participated in taking U.S. hostages in 1979, and fought alongside Iraq in Saddam's war with Iran, have been on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list for years. However, the United States has also protected and cooperated with them, and numerous U.S. representatives from both parties openly support them. In a 2007 PBS "Frontline" interview, Bush's Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns refused to confirm or deny that the U.S. was working with the designated terrorist group.
These are but a few of Iran's chief unresolved issues with America, mentioned once again in Ahmadinejad's speech. They will come up again.
So in keeping with Obama's pledge to do more listening, we are providing the entire relevant portion of the speech in Kermanshah. Although excerpts have been quoted in English-language news articles, and the original (Farsi only) transcript is posted on Ahmadinejad's web site, a complete English text has been unavailable until now. The following translation preserves not only the context and flow of his speech, but is faithful to his actual sentence structure and style of speaking.
Presented for informational purposes only, this is Ahmadinejad unfiltered and unedited, in his own words.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Speech in Kermanshah, Iran
January 28, 2009
Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
© 2009 The Mossadegh Project
Today we can look at the very dark and shameful file of Mr. Bush in the world arena – full of crimes, murders and treachery against humanity that joined the dustbin of history. The last page in this dark file was his support for Zionist crimes in Gaza. We witnessed how innocent women and children were slaughtered by the use of banned weapons or otherwise. Mr. Bush rudely supported these crimes, with his wolf-like language of brutality. He is gone now, and God willing, will end up in Hell.
Now a new administration is in power with slogan of Change and stated change in American policies, this is very good, a good talk since Mr. Bush's policies were one hundred percent unethical, inhumane and contrary to Godly values and teaching of his prophets. Mr. Bush's behavior and his policies were the most foul and criminal of policies the world has seen over the past 50 years.
The fact that they have said they want to change is good talk, but bear with me, dear people of Kermanshah, people of Iran, and all nations of the world, I want to talk with you about this change. The issue is important and it is proper to set forth this important issue in the presence of the revolutionary and pious people of Kermanshah.
When they say we intend to change course, the change may occur in two ways, one – a fundamental and foundational change which has an effect and represents a change in principle. The second way is a tactical change, a change in method and use of language only as a political weapon. It is very clear that if the intention is of the second kind, it would soon be revealed and the nations of the world would situate themselves accordingly. Here I want to bring up some of the actions of Mr. Bush's government and see what must take place if there is going to be a change.
One of the main problems of Mr. Bush and his collaborators were the way they looked at human societies. They sought superiority and domination over others. They perceived themselves to be number one and ranked other nations as number three, four or ten. When they spoke with others it was from a position of conceit and entitlement. If this is supposed to change, we should no longer witness an America that sees itself superior to others, dominates others, speaks rudely to other nations and ranks itself above all others.
The presence of military force around the world was the other wrong policy of Mr. Bush. You saw how they used September 11, the downing of twin towers in New York, as an excuse to invade and occupy other countries. Today the American government for domination's sake has military forces from Japan to South America, from South Africa to the heart of Europe. The question is this: why should America have military bases around the world? Wherever a war breaks out, it is either due to the presence of American forces or due to their unnecessary meddling.
When they say the policy is going to change, that should mean an end to American military presence around the world. They should pick up their forces and return to within their own boundary to serve their own people. Nobody in the world has asked them to mobilize their forces.
There was an event called September 11, the cause of which remains unknown and, like the Holocaust, a true investigation was not permitted. Using September 11 as an excuse, they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. More than a million innocent Iraqis died. Several hundred thousand Afghanis lost their lives. Several million became refugees. If you are talking about a policy change then give permission to find out the cause, if you are talking about a policy change it should mean removal of your army and forces.
In Afghanistan you have brought an increase in narcotic production and insecurity. Change in policy means allowing the Afghan government to pursue its own plan to combat narcotic production.
Mr. Bush had the habit of permitting himself to intervene in the affairs of all nations. Mr. Sudan, why this? Mr. Arabestan, [Saudi Arabia] why are you praying this way? Mr. Iran, why do you want to progress scientifically?
If they are saying that we want to change policies, that should mean that the American government should not interfere in the affairs of other nations. What business is it of theirs how other nations live, who asked them to come and interfere in their affairs?
Mr. Bush, without any question and unconditionally, gave his support to the criminal Zionists. They brought a group, gathered from around the world, and exiled the people of Palestine with force of Gun, and placed those people in their place. Their mission was to constantly create wars, terrorize, invade, occupy and intimidate others. Mr. Bush had closed his eyes and in an absolute way defended all the Zionists' crimes, granting no rights to the Palestinian nation.
Change in policy means withdrawing your support from Zionists, the non-native, uncultured, illegal, impostor, homicidal, killers of women and children and allow the people of Palestine to decide their own destiny.
Mr. Bush humiliated the American nation. Insulted the American nation. Listened to the phones of all Americans. Planned for and created a psychological war of fear and intimidation on the American people. With this method he excluded them from the political scene and did what he wanted in the world. If you are talking about policy change, then lift the pressures off the American people. Allow the people of America to be free and to engage in political affairs and choose their own destiny themselves. Why are you disgracing the people of America?
As to the last part, grant me permission to talk about our dear Iran. We are at the threshold of the revolution. Those who say they want to change their policies should now pay attention. It is more than 60 years that the successive American governments stood at the opposition of the Iranian nation. In 1332  with a coup they toppled the national government of Iran and replaced it with a harsh, unpopular and despotic regime. They took our oil and our wealth. They corrupted our culture and in return gave us a Satanic entity called SAVAK [the Shah's security agency] that tortured our scholars, our young and learned people in their dungeons with one hundred percent American support.
They kept us from joining the caravan of progress for 25 years, bringing poverty, misery and illiteracy to our nation. On 15 Khordad '42 [Persian calendar 1342, or June 5, 1963] they humiliated our nation and killed 15,000 people of this nation and exiled the leader of our nation [Ayatollah Khomeini]. In '57 [Persian calendar 1357, or 1978] they killed more than 1,500 people in the Martyrs square and the killers received the American president's support. They stood by the side of dictatorship until the last day. They stood in opposition to the revolution of the freedom, independence and justice-seeking Iranian nation.
From the dawn of victory until now, the American government has stood in opposition to our nation. They turned their embassy into a spy den, they invaded Tabas [a city in the east of Iran used by American forces in an attempt to free hostages], plotted a military coup, protected terrorists [the MEK guerrilla organization] who killed more than 16,000 people, they encouraged and supported Saddam to go to war with Iran; eight years of war with their help, with their support, with their weapons against the nation of Iran.
This very heroic Kermanshah was bombed hundreds of times and Saddam and his bombing was condoned by the American governments. They even defended the use of chemical weapons by Saddam. They insulted our nation and culture, and frequently announced their intention to uproot the Iranian nation. They downed our passenger plane and committed hundreds of crimes against the people of Iran. They even rudely opposed our nation on the nuclear issue. Those who possess more than 10,000 atomic bombs shamelessly voice their concern about our nation.
I think those who say they want to create change: this is change, to apologize to the nation of Iran and try to make up for their dark history and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation.
We welcome change but on the condition that the change is fundamental and on a right course, otherwise pay attention, otherwise the world should know, that anyone with the same speaking manner of Mr. Bush, same language of Mr. Bush, the same spirit of Mr. Bush, adventurism of Mr. Bush, even using new words to speak to the nation of Iran, the answer is the same one that Mr. Bush and his lackeys received over the years.
We hear that they are making plans for Iran. We in turn wait patiently, listen carefully to their words, carefully assess actions under the magnifying glass and if a real change occurs in a fundamental way, we shall welcome it.