Monday, May 29, 2006

A Letter's Many Meanings

Jon B. Alterman
May 15, 2006
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s letter to President George W. Bush last week was carefully crafted to antagonize Bush but humanize Ahmedinejad. The letter didn’t get him anywhere with the United States, but for Ahmedinejad’s target audience – in Iran, in the wider Muslim world, and even in Europe – it was a masterstroke.

Observers initially viewed the letter at face value, as an unprecedented gesture from an Iranian leader to an American president. Given recent months of escalating diplomatic wrangling, and given the troubled history between the two countries that dates back a half-century, Ahmedinejad’s approach seemed an effort to extend an olive branch.

In fact, it was an effort to position Iran as peace-seeking in the face of an aggressive United States. The letter took on a tone that was alternately condescending and pedantic, but consistently well calculated to score public relations points against an unpopular U.S. president around the world.
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