I've been thinking a great deal about what role the Obama Administration can have in influencing the human rights status of Baha'i's, specifically in Iran.
I feel that Obama must already have a great understanding of Baha'i's and the status of Baha'i's around the world, given his background as a in Chicago public life. Given that: the Baha'i National Centre is in the Chicago area, the level to which the Chicago Baha'i community engages the community at large, and the level to which the BNC and individual believers in the area inform their local and Federal representatives of the Baha'i human rights crisis.
Thus, Barack Obama surely must have encountered Baha'i's and worked with Baha'i's at some point, if not frequently, as a community organizer in Chicago. Beyond then as a state legislator representing the Chicago area, his familiarization with the Baha'i community in representing their needs must have continued, and furthermore as a Senator for Illinois.
So if all of that is true, and he has this relationship with Baha'i International Issues, coming into the Presidency, I feel that Barack Obama would have a special ear for the Baha'i human rights crisis.
He has been criticized for willing to meet with the leadership of nations which the US is currently at odds with, including Iran. In response to a criticism of this policy, during one of the primary debates, Barack Obama said this (in specific reference to Cuba, though Iran is probably an interchangeable subject in this context):
"I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time."
CNN / University of Texas Democratic Debate, Austin, TX, 2/21/08
In Berlin, Barack Obama mentioned this, in reference to the human rights:
"Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?"
Barack Obama, Berlin. July 24, 2008
I also noticed that he has an enhanced understanding of the internal mechanics of the Iranian regime, relative to most politicians. I and many other Iranians were impressed when he pointed out that Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Iran. He also noticeably exhibited certain Baha'i coded rhetoric, such as when he famously referred to himself as a "world citizen" in his Berlin speech. Whether that was a coincidence or something he had learned through encountering the Baha'i Faith or Baha'i's, I have no idea.
Back to the point though, I think his policy will be to do what organizations such as the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) have been advocating, and that is to use human rights as a negotiating chip in enhancing relations. That is to say, if the Iranian regime wants to better their economic or diplomatic situation, they would have to capitulate human rights improvements.
Presupposing that Barack Obama has this history of familiarity with the Baha'i community and Baha'i International issues, we can assume that Baha'i human rights will be a priority.
Also, Obama recently chose Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who represents Chicago in the Congressional House of Representatives, as his Chief of Staff. For the same reasons that we can suspect Barack Obama of having this familiarity with the Baha'i Community and Baha'i International Issues for having been representing Chicago and working in Chicago public life for so long, we can suspect Rahm Emanuel of having an equivalent relationship. Rahm also volunteered in Israel, so he actually lived there. Every Israeli I have ever met is familiar with the Baha'i Faith and the Baha'i Community, given that the Baha'i International Centre is so prominent in Haifa. So this experience may have served to enhance Mr. Emanuel's understanding of the Baha'i Faith, and perhaps consequently enhanced his understanding of Baha'i interests in its human rights status in Iran as well.
All in all, I think this Administration can serve to cause a turning point for the status of Baha'i human rights in Iran perhaps in other nations such as Egypt and Morocco.