Monday was Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and hundreds of Iranian political prisoners again spent the holiday behind bars. The difference this year is that President Obama mentioned some of those prisoners by name. That’s a welcome first.
For three years, Mr. Obama has recorded an annual Nowruz message to the Iranian people. In his 2009 greeting, he became the first U.S. President to refer to the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” the name preferred by the country’s ruling clerics. The U.S. seeks “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” the President said to an Iranian leadership that for 30 years has denounced, threatened and killed Americans.
Nowruz 2010 (or 1389, on the Persian calendar) brought more conciliation. “The United States acknowledges your right to peaceful nuclear energy,” Mr. Obama told the mullahs in Tehran. “We are familiar with your grievances from the past—we have our own grievances as well, but we are prepared to move forward.” The theme was mutuality, as if the U.S. and Iran are merely two quarreling siblings in the family of nations.
This week’s message had no deferential talk of engagement. Instead, Mr. Obama focused on Tehran’s brutality toward human rights and democracy activists, and he named names. “We have seen Nasrin Sotoudeh jailed for defending human rights; Jafar Panahi imprisoned and unable to make films; Abdolreza Tajik thrown in jail for being a journalist; the Bahai community and Sufi Muslims punished for their faith; Mohammad Valian, a young student, sentenced to death for throwing three stones.”
Never before has Mr. Obama spoken this directly. Even his references to Neda Agha-Soltan—the 26-year-old protester whose shooting death, captured on camera, came to symbolize the democracy movement—have not included her name.
We’re not sure who’s writing the President’s speeches these days, but we welcome the overdue shift. So, surely, do Iran’s imprisoned democrats.