Invoking art, history and “the common humanity that binds us,” President Obama offered a “new day” in America’s relationship with Iran, using an unusual videotaped message to appeal directly to Iranians for a shift away from decades of confrontation.

But he warned Iran’s leaders that their access to what he called Iran’s “rightful place in the community of nations” would not be advanced by threats or by “terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions.”

The president’s message — released with Farsi subtitles to some broadcasters in the Middle East and marking the Nowruz Spring holiday in Iran — echoed sentiments in Mr. Obama’s first televised interview from the White House in January in which he hinted at a new openness toward Iran. […]

The president’s overture drew an enthusiastic response from the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who said he hoped it would lead to a “new chapter in relations with Iran.”

Obama’s video message spoke to both the Iranian people and their leaders, but in different ways. For the prior, the message was positive and respectful: “Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place…. For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.”

For the latter, it was diplomatic and forward-thinking: “We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

I don’t doubt that the right will be unhappy about this. The president, the argument goes, is supposed to be threatening (if not bombing) Iran, not reaching out to them. That the White House message was offered with Farsi subtitles, published with a Persian transcript, and ended with the line ” Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak,” will probably drive Fox News and far-right blogs batty.

But Obama’s message bypasses Iran’s religious ruling class and will likely have its intended effect: generating good will. It certainly beats “axis of evil” bluster.

It also reflects a welcome maturity for U.S. leaders. Ezra raised a very good point: “There are times when it’s hard to believe that this is how my country acts now. That somewhere in government, some young bureaucrat had the idea that the President should publicly honor the Iranian New Year, and that bureaucrat felt that her superiors would also think this a good idea, and, indeed, the thought went all the way to the President, who agreed that a display of engagement and goodwill was consonant with our national values and foreign policy goals. It is hard to believe that five years after we were ordering ‘freedom fries’ in the congressional cafeteria, we’re posting Persian translations at Whitehouse.gov.”

I love the smell of progress in the morning.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.