Obama’s Iran Policy: Mutual Respect Matters

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William Scott Harrop
27 April 2011

This article analyzes President Barack Obama’s thematic use of “mutual respect” in his foreign policy and in his efforts to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. President Obama began his presidency by proclaiming that America seeks “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” Towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, the President spoke of constructive diplomacy, a process “not advanced by threats,” but an “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." As will be shown, the ideal of “mutual respect” resonates authentically with Obama’s personal background and worldview. The President believes that mutual respect matters, that it positively enhances American policies toward friends and adversaries alike. “Mutual respect” also strikes a responsive chord inside Iran because it embodies a time-honored value embedded deep in Iran's diplomatic culture, transcending personalities, governments, and factions. Yet Obama’s mutual respect message has not been heard clearly in Iran, in part because of contradictions emanating from simultaneous expressions of pressures, sanctions, and time limits, words perceived in Iran as threatening and disrespectful. Despite such serious problems, this essay contends that “mutual respect” still matters, that it provides a constructive rail for bridging present chasms between America and Iran, a necessary pre-requisite to overcome counterproductive habits of “mutual disrespect  .”