On Friday President Obama released a video message aimed directly at the Iranian government and people on the occasion of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. In the message, Obama offers Iran a new beginning, and a new opportunity for dialogue. Such a message puts Iran’s hardliners in an awkward position. In the past, they could blame the US and the Bush administration for preventing a rapprochement, while now they look like the obstructionists if they do not show a willingness to engage. In its initial reply, it seems that Iran’s government is not yet ready to engage the US in any serious way. But even if Obama’s message fails now, there is the possibility for change in the near future. Iran has elections in June. In those elections moderates and reformers may be able to take advantage of the American opening in order to win power.
Beyond New Year’s greetings, the Obama administration is moving to start things over with Russia after the cool down in relations during the later part of the Bush administration. And unlike Iran (at least for now), Russia seems to be more receptive. With the coming expiration of the Start I the renewal of the arms-reduction treaty is seen as a good place to start for future US-Russia cooperation. Unlike many other issues, arms reduction is one where cooperation between the US and Russia is in the interests of both countries.
It is clear even before the first 100 days are over that the Obama administration does mean to have a different foreign policy, if only in style. And even given that short time, it seems to be clear that style does matter. Although it really should come as no surprise that states, like individuals, don’t react well to bluster.