Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


In his Cairo speech, the president also addressed Iran.

President BARACK OBAMA: Rather than remain trapped in the past, I 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.

SIEGEL: Well, joining us now from the Iranian capital Tehran is Borzou Daragahi, who covers Iran for the Los Angeles Times. What have you heard in the way of reaction to President Obama's speech there?

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Middle East Correspondent, Los Angeles Times): I think the reaction has been, on both sides of the political spectrum here, rather different. On the one hand, you had conservatives who are rather skeptical, still, of Obama's rhetoric. They think that it's not going to be followed by action, that it's an attempt at diplomacy meant to ultimately fail. And then, on the other hand, you have much more moderate folks, more reformist figures in the establishment and the society who are warmed by the comments and welcome the outreach as genuine and unprecedented.

SIEGEL: Among the various divisions in the greater Middle-East that the president spoke of was one within Islam - that between Sunni and Shia Muslims -and that, obviously, would be of some interest to overwhelmingly Shiite Iran. Any reaction to that statement by the president?

Mr. DARAGAHI: I think, in general, Iranians are sensitive, extremely sensitive, about any talk about that rift. Media here is very careful whenever there's a clash between the Sunni minority and the Shiite establishment - very careful about how they talk about it and mention it. Iran sees itself as a leader of the Muslim world and this whole discussion of the Shiite-Sunni rift makes it very nervous, because it kind of undermines their position that they can lead the Muslim world.

SIEGEL: I just wonder what you made of the general atmospherics of the speech. The president was attempting to describe a new beginning and to demarcate what the U.S. relations with the world of Islam have been under President Bush, and now under his presidency. Is there any sense of that at all in Tehran? Do people there think of this as a new day, as opposed to what was going on for the past few years?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Look, Barack Obama is extremely popular in Iran among ordinary people and even leaders, hardline leaders, who are avowedly anti-American, are careful not to criticize him directly, because they know he's so popular. He's, to many people across the region and especially in Iran, he's a breath of fresh air. His rhetoric is soothing and calming. He doesn't talk about, you know, I'm not going to take all options off the table, and that's very reassuring to Iranians that he's not itching for a fight.

And so this is changing a lot of the dynamics within the political establishment here. It's forcing a reconsideration of the government's anti-American stance, and you can see that in the political rhetoric between the candidates as they prepare for elections, June 12th.

SIEGEL: Put this in the context of that - that we're in the last weeks of an Iranian presidential campaign.

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, I think - I'll just play analyst for a second here, and I think that this was that Obama's speech was helpful to the moderate side of the political divide here, because he basically said that I'm reaching out to the Iranians. I want to have talks with them without preconditions, and this speech and timing of the speech is going to help the moderates, because this is the argument that they've been making is that now is the time for us to take the opportunity to establish a rapprochement with America. And Ahmadinejad is not the guy to do that - you should vote against him if you want Iran to have good international relations.

SIEGEL: Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for talking with us from Tehran.

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure, thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: