President Obama and President Rouhani may make history this week. Two comedians, one Jewish and one Iranian, are urging them on with one of the funniest political videos in a long time.
Half of the people in the United States were not born the last time a U.S. president met a leader of Iran. But that may change today if President Barack Obama takes the opportunity to meet -- however briefly -- with newly elected President Hassan Rouhani of Iran when both speak at the United Nations.
The last time the leaders of the two countries met was 1977, when President Jimmy Carter dined with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. That was 36 years ago, or just about the median age of the U.S. population. If Obama and Rouhani do meet, the picture of the historic moment will flash around the world, sending a powerful message that the diplomatic doors are once again open, and jolting the national security bureaucracies in both countries into action.
Last week, Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani joined with Jewish-American comedian Elon Gold urging Obama and Rouhani on with a powerful message wrapped in a very funny dance video. They said:
For the past year, policy makers in Washington, D.C. and Jerusalem have been seriously considering military strikes against Iran over its nuclear program.
No one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Military strikes are the wrong way to stop it from building one. In fact, both Israeli and American military experts believe that if we attack, Iran will accelerate its nuclear program.
A diplomatic solution is possible. Iranians just elected a new, more pragmatic president. Israelis are seeking a more secure region. Americans clearly don't want another war in the Middle East. Experts know what the deal needs to look like. Don't let politics get in the way.
Jobrani and Gold are right: A deal on Iran's nuclear program is very possible -- if the two sides can find the right first step. Rouhani has spent the past few weeks signaling that he is ready to deal, purging the national security apparatus of hard-line ideologues and replacing them with moderates and pragmatists. It is not clear that Obama's team is as ready as Rouhani's or has fully grasped the historic opportunity.
The broad outlines of the deal are known: Iran reduces its ability to quickly build material for nuclear weapons, the West drops some of the sanctions strangling Iran's economy. Further actions would lead to verifiable limits on Iran's ability to enrich uranium, an end to all sanctions and the restoration of diplomatic relations. The trick is in the sequencing -- and overcoming the resistance of conservatives in both nations opposed to any deal.
Even if the two presidents do not meet, there is a chance for a breakthrough on Thursday when Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif will convene as part of the nuclear negotiations known as the P5 + 1. This will also be the first meeting at this level since the 1979 Iranian revolution. President Rouhani has give Zarif the nuclear portfolio. In his UN speech on Tuesday, President Obama handed Kerry the same brief. The two are now empowered to make a deal.
But Rouhani and Zarif need to return to Tehran with some tangible sign that their diplomatic overture is working or risk a conservative backlash that could close the diplomatic window prematurely. Obama and Kerry, meanwhile, must have some further proof that Iran's new leadership is genuinely set on a new course. Iran could, for example, order the release of more political prisoner, while the U.S. could announce the suspension of some sanctions. That could be followed by a more detailed agreement in principle at the P5 + 1 meeting on Thursday.
It is not often that the world gets to see the hinge of history move in real time. But it could happen this week, if the leaders of these two critical nations can grasp the moment.
You can help encourage this by taking two simple steps: Watch the video Jobrani and Gold have produced (as of this posting, over 125,000 people have already seen it) and then sign their letter asking world leaders to take a stand for peace (thousands already have, including just this morning, Hossein from Iran and Naomi from Israel). And if you are really moved, you can post your own dance for peace on their web site.
With a little push from enough people, the leaders of Iran and America may make history this week -- and we can all do a little peace dance.
A version of this post was originally done for Al Jazeera America.