The Obama administration’s “soft power” strategy on Iran

United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an Interview With Bahman Kalbasi of BBC Persian

United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with Bahman Kalbasi of BBC Persian

Source: ISNADate: 29 October 2011

In interviews with Voice of America (VOA) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the launch of a number of initiatives which appear to be aimed at reaching out to the Iranian people. These initiatives include the creation of a “Virtual Embassy” to provide Iranians with direct information on the US and its government, encouragement for Iranian students to attend US educational institutions, and building a greater relationship with younger Iranians:

“… What we’re going to do, despite the fact we do not have diplomatic relations, is I’m going to announce the opening of a virtual embassy in Tehran; the website will be up and going at the end of the year. We’re going to continue to reach out, particularly to students, and encourage that you come back and study in the United States, and we’re going to look for other people-to-people exchanges that will try to develop the relationships that I think are so important between the American people and the Iranian people for the 21st century.”

Clinton stated that the US desired better relations with Iran, but that the regime did not seem open to the idea. She also expressed concern over what she viewed as the militarization of the Islamic Republic, calling it a “dictatorship”, and repeated allegations of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US.

The Iranian reaction 

Since Clinton’s interviews late last week a number of Iranian officials have responded, including Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali-Akbar Salehi.

In a meeting with the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani today, Salehi dismissed Clinton’s announcement:

“Until now, we have heard many such statements, and these statements are full of contradictions. On the one hand they show interest [in relations with us] and on the other hand they speak against Iran…Our foundation is relations with all countries, except for the Zionist regime [Israel] which we do not view as legitimate, but establishing relations only become meaningful when the two sides enter discussions as equals and without pre-conditions, and it appears that the time for [these discussions] has not arrived”

“Sooner or later they will realize that Iran is not a country which they can deal arrogantly with, and we hope the day arrives when rationality and logic become part of US foreign policy…But until today the US has used force and duplicity on the set of international issues.”

Editor’s note: The initiatives, announced by Clinton on the popular VOA Persian show Parazit as well as BBC Persian, appear to strengthen the US soft power strategy toward Iran. Soft power is the idea that a state can achieve its goals through attraction, rather than coercion or payment (i.e. hard power).

When combined with the existing US hard-power strategies of military encirclement and stringent economic sanctions toward Iran, the Obama administration seems to be laying the foundations for a comprehensive smart power strategy, what international relations theorist Joseph Nye calls “the ability to combine hard and soft power into a winning strategy”. We will be preparing an assessment of the changing US foreign policy strategy in the coming week which will address this as well as several other recent developments in US-Iran relations.