Obama launches 'YouTube diplomacy'



Ping pong diplomacy helped thaw US-China relations and YouTube diplomacy may do the same for US ties with Iran.
President Barack Obama, whose use of the Web helped catapult him into the White House, turned to the Internet again to launch the first major diplomatic initiative of his young presidency.



Obama launches 'YouTube diplomacy'
In recording a video message to the Iranian people marking the Iranian New Year Nowruz and distributing it online, Obama seized one of the Web tools he used so effectively during his presidential campaign.
Obama the candidate relied on his supporters forwarding emails and videos to friends and family, and the White House is hoping Iranians will do the same with the president's YouTube message.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said it appears to be working. "This has been spreading like wildfire on the Internet," he told AFP.
"It's just amazing the number of emails I've received from people both in the US and in Iran wishing each other a happy new year and then there's a link at the bottom to the president's message."
The 3min 35sec video entitled "A New Year, A New Beginning" was posted on the White House website at whitehouse.gov/Nowruz with captions in Farsi and also on the White House YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/whitehouse.
It had rung up nearly 150,000 views on YouTube some 18 hours after its release and generated a stream of more than 1,300 mostly favorable comments.
Andrew Rasiej, a co-founder of the TechPresident.com blog, which examines politics and technology, said using the Internet allowed Obama to deliver his words directly and unfiltered to the Iranian people.
"He's using the open platform of the Internet to ensure his message is heard in full and not shortened where it could be taken out of context or manipulated in a way that doesn't meet with his intent," Rasiej told AFP.
"Because the Internet offers the president a direct conduit to the citizens of a given country he can not only talk to them directly but he knows they will spread his message for him ... That's what makes it so powerful," he added.
"There is some 65-year-old Iranian who remembers the positive relationship between Iran and the United States who will forward this video to his or her friends in Iran."
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Obama's video use "gives a more personalized identification to the message than simply a printed statement or something read from a podium."
"It can be an effective medium particularly if the video is disseminated via the Internet because of course Iranians have a reasonable amount of access to the Internet," she said. "A lot of sites are blocked but the reality is there are multiple avenues for getting material in and out of the country."
Maloney said Obama's video was not solely aimed at the Iranian people.
"The most important part of the message was the fact that President Obama explicitly stepped away from the tradition of the (George W.) Bush administration, which was to very deliberately try to insert a wedge between Iranian leaders and the people," she said.
"In this case what you have is President Obama speaking directly to the leadership and even referencing the country as the Islamic Republic of Iran, which if not unprecedented is highly unusual for an American leader."
Rasiej said the Internet had the potential to change diplomacy the way it had changed politics.
"The Internet doesn't only represent an opportunity to remake politics in the United States," he said.
"It has the opportunity to reinvent diplomacy by not only having diplomats talk to each other but by engaging citizens talking to each other, debating common issues and goals."
Obama's special video message to Iran is the "first step in 21st century citizen-to-citizen diplomacy led by the first true 21st century president," Rasiej added.
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties since 1980, a year after Iran became an Islamic republic and in the wake of the 1979 hostage taking of US diplomats by Islamist students at the US embassy in Tehran.
Obama pledged during the election campaign to engage with Washington's adversaries and his YouTube overture to Iran was his most significant since taking office on January 20.
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Sunday, March 22nd 2009
Chris Lefkow
           


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