ANALYSIS: Obama’s words worry Israel’s backers

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However, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, objected to the juxtaposition of Mr. Obama’s reference to the Holocaust and the Palestinian experience since the establishment of Israel.

“The Palestinians are suffering because Arab and Palestinian leaders rejected every opportunity that would have brought them their own independence,” Mr. Hoenlein said.

He also criticized Mr. Obama for demanding that Israel stop settlement expansion while not making specific demands of Arab states for gestures toward Israel, such as the right for the Israeli national airline, El Al, to overfly Arab land.

Mr. Hoenlein said Mr. Obama’s conciliatory remarks toward Iran would not sit well among Arab leaders who fear Iran’s nuclear advances.

“You have to distinguish between those who are willing to work with us and those who aren’t,” Mr. Hoenlein said.

Previous U.S. administrations have acknowledged Palestinian suffering and U.S. interference in Iran but not in such explicit terms.

President Clinton, for example, addressed Palestinian leaders and legislators in Gaza in 1998 and spoke of the Palestinians’ “history of dispossession and dispersal” but spent much of the speech urging Palestinians to stop anti-Israel incitement.

Mr. Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright, apologized in a speech in 2000 for the coup that overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.

However, Mr. Obama, speaking a week before Iranian presidential elections, was the first U.S. president to acknowledge the U.S. role in derailing Iran’s path toward democracy more than a half-century ago.

“In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government,” Mr. Obama said.

Funded and encouraged by the CIA, Iranian monarchists removed Mr. Mossadegh — who had nationalized a British-owned oil company. The coup reinstalled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, an autocratic ruler who was subsequently overthrown in a popular revolution in 1979.

Mr. Hamilton said Mr. Obama’s words would be taken as a “signal” of a U.S. desire to ease 30 years of hostility with Iran. “The Iranians have wanted us to come clean on Mossadegh, and the president did that.”

Mr. Obama also laid out U.S. grievances against Iran, which have not been admitted by the Islamic government.

“Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians,” Mr. Obama said. However, he added, “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”

Some Middle East specialists questioned whether Mr. Obama can deal with stubborn regional conflicts more successfully than his predecessors.

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About the Author
Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is assistant managing editor for World and National Security at The Washington Times and the author of a 2007 book on Iran, titled “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.” Before joining The Times in July 2008, she was senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today. She has accompanied three secretaries of state ...

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