By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 – As Iran and other nations celebrate Nowruz — the Persian New Year — President Barack Obama called for understanding between Americans and Iranians.
The president noted the tensions between the Iranian government and the rest of the world over the government’s nuclear program.
“To the people of Iran, this holiday comes at a time of continued tension between our two countries,” the president said in a video message on the holiday. “But as people gather with their families, do good deeds, and welcome a new season, we are also reminded of the common humanity that we share.”
The president maintained no reasons exist for the United States and Iran to be divided. “Here in the United States, Iranian-Americans prosper and contribute greatly to our culture,” he said. He noted that the Iranian film “A Separation” won this year’s Academy Award for best foreign language film.
The U.S. and Iranian navies have taken on the danger of piracy together, and U.S. sailors have rescued Iranian citizens who had been taken hostage, Obama said. “And from Facebook to Twitter — from cell phones to the Internet — our people use the same tools to talk to one another, and to enrich our lives,” he added.
But the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want, Obama said. “Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts,” he said. “It censors the Internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power.”
The Iranian government has increased controls to the extent that its citizens cannot communicate freely with their loved ones within Iran, or beyond its borders. “Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them,” the president said.
This “electronic curtain” has stopped the free flow of ideas both ways, Obama noted. “I want the Iranian people to know that America seeks a dialogue to hear your views and understand your aspirations,” he added.
The president announced the creation of a “virtual embassy” for the Iranian people. “Even as we’ve imposed sanctions on the Iranian government, today my administration is issuing new guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to provide software and services into Iran that will make it easier for the Iranian people to use the Internet,” he said.
Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away, the president said.
“The Iranian people are the heirs to a great and ancient civilization,” he said. “Like people everywhere, they have the universal right to think and speak for themselves. The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect these rights, just as it has a responsibility to meet its obligations with regard to its nuclear program.”
The president reiterated that if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path, it will be welcomed once more among the community of nations, and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.