In a sharply-worded press conference, Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad hit back at Barack Obama, predicting that "a future more shameful than his predecessor" is awaiting the United States president, whom he accused of adding deception to the mix of George W Bush's hegemonic policies in the Middle East.
At the same time, instead of an unbounded expression of hostility toward the US, Ahmadinejad in the same Tehran press conference on Monday somewhat amended his view by adding that Iran considered itself a "friend with all nations and governments against the Zionist regime". Echoing the president's statement, Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, said Iran was willing to enter into another round of nuclear talks with the "Iran Six" nations "without any preconditions".
By all indications, Amhadinejad's decision to up the ante against the US president is a reaction to Obama's recent new year message, that reached out to youths to revolt against Iran's leaders (see Obama fans flames of animosity in Tehran Asia Times Online, March 22, 2011), thus following the footsteps of Iran's spiritual leader, who also lambasted Obama for betraying his promised sea-change in US foreign behavior.
Ahmadinejad accused the US of being the motivating force behind the anti-Iran stance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, who in their latest communique accused Iran of meddling in Bahrain's affairs. At the same time, Ahmadinejad accused the US and Israel of conspiring to "partition Jordan" under the guise of establishing a Palestinian state. He defended Tehran's decision to extend an invitation to Jordan's King Abdullah bin Hussein II and maintained that Abdullah had postponed the trip, contrary to reports that Iran had done so.
Regarding the future of the current US administration, the Iranian president said, "I believe that [Bush] left the scene of politics with shame, but his successor will have to leave the scene of politics with much more shame because of his resort to both force and deception."
According to a Tehran University political science professor who spoke with the author on the condition of anonymity, Ahmadinejad has "no more illusions about Obama" and may even regret that he had sent two (hitherto unanswered) letters to Obama. Coinciding with Ahmadinejad's press conference was the ominous news as far as Tehran is concerned that Germany now refuses to be the go-between for the India-Iran oil transactions, thus putting a question mark over the future of that lucrative trade involving billions of dollars of foreign exchange for Tehran.
"Perhaps more than anything else, President Ahmadinejad is appalled by Obama's hypocrisy of tacitly condoning Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Bahrain and ignoring the brutal suppression of Bahraini Shi'ites," said the Tehran professor, who predicted US-Iran relations would take a more antagonistic turn in the near future.
Maybe so, but the two sides should not allow rhetoric to supplant prudent policies. Even with respect to Bahrain, the White House is not completely on the same page with Riyadh and there are indications that the purpose of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' trip to Saudi Arabia this week is to relay some of Obama administration's unhappiness with Saudis' role in Bahrain.
Not only that, one may even safely speculate about a margin of policy symbiosis or coinciding points of views between Washington and Tehran regarding the current upheavals in the Arab word, in light of Iran's support for the democratic transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.
In other words, the surface appearance of a zero-sum, win-lose, competition, as contended by a recent monograph on "strategic competition" between US and Iran put out by the Washington, DC, think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, doesn't match the facts.
A main flaw of such studies - found aplenty in the US nowadays - is that they either completely overlook or underestimate the pool of shared interests between the US and Iran - in Iraq, Afghanistan, regarding trafficking in narcotics, and even the political evolution of the closed political systems of the Middle East - although on the latter one can argue that the US has simply tried to adopt itself to forced circumstances that has warranted the abandonment of loyal allies such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
In fact, it is far better to conceptualize the net of US-Iran relations from the prism of "mixed motives" and games of strategy, denoting simultaneous conflict and cooperation, given the fact that both Tehran and Washington have vested interests with the current regimes in Baghdad and Kabul. In such a complex game, it is important to maintain a healthy equilibrium, instead of forfeiting one dimension entirely for the sake of the either.
The US should be careful not to antagonize Iran any further, or to give the wrong impression that in order to make Saudi Arabia happy it has completely ignored Iran's legitimate interests, such as natural solidarity with Shi'ites in the region, in which case Washington should expect to see certain practical follow-ups from the stern anti-Obama gestures of Ahmadinejad mentioned above.
In that case, more rather than less instability in the region will follow, all the more reason for US policymakers to heed Ahmadinejad's persistent call for US-Iran relations based on "justice and mutual respect" ie, horizontal and non-hegemonic ties. Hopefully, future history will not prove this to be a hope against hope.