Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama has reached out to Iranian youth on Norooz, the Iranian New Year, expressing his solidarity with them.

“The future of Iran belongs to the young people — the youth who will determine their own destiny,” Obama said in a statement. “Your talent, your hopes and your choices will shape the future of Iran and help light the world. And though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you.”

This is Obama’s third Norooz message since he became the U.S. president.

In contrast to the past two years, Obama only addressed the people of Iran and their democratic aspirations this year.

In 2009 he addressed Iranian leaders, saying he was ready for open talks, and in 2010 he spoke of missed opportunities for improving relations between his country and Iran.

In his latest message, addressed only to the people, Obama said: “The same forces of hope that swept across Tahrir Square were seen in Azadi Square in June of 2009.” Thus he compared the Egyptian mass uprising that ousted Hosni Moubarak last month to the Iranian mass street demonstrations that took shape in 2009 in protest the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama criticized what he describes as the Islamic Republic’s “campaign of intimidation and abuse” and he condemned the incarceration of “prisoners of conscience”, the disappearance of “the innocent”, the silencing of journalists, the torture of women and the sentencing of children to death.

“We have seen Nasrin Sotoudeh jailed for defending human rights; Jaffar Panahi imprisoned and unable to make his 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.” Obama added.

The U.S. president said the Iranian government has shown that “it cares far more about preserving its own power than respecting the rights of the Iranian people.”

He added, however, that these policies mark the government’s fear rather than its strength, for “the future of Iran will not be shaped by fear” but rather by “the youth who will determine their own destiny.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton echoed the president’s message to all those who celebrate Norooz, expressing her hope for new commitments to human rights and basic freedoms in the New Year.

The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei also issued a message marking the Iranian New Year, dubbing this year the “year of economic jihad.” Since 1998, Ayatollah Khamenei has given a name to each year.