US and Iranian leaders often seem to be talking past each other. But President Obama’s Persian New Year’s message drew rare acknowledgement from Iran’s top negotiator at nuclear talks in Kazakhstan this past weekend. What prompted Saeed Jalili’s remarks were not the usual issues of contention in stalemated nuclear talks–20% enrichment and buried bunkers–but poetry; specifically, Obama’s citation in his March 16 Nowruz message of a couple lines of poetry from the 14th century Persian poet Hafez.
“As you gather with family and friends this Nowruz, many of you will turn to the poet Hafez who wrote: ‘Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering,” Obama said in the videotaped Nowruz message, which stressed his continuing preference to peacefully resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and urged Iran’s leaders to take steps to reduce tensions and accept a “practical solution.”
Jalili–speaking at an April 6 press conference after two days of intense but inconclusive talks with six world powers that failed to produce much headway–said the message of the 700 year old poem cited by Obama is that he should ease sanctions on Iran if he wants to reduce enmity between the two countries. Continue reading