Iranian families release lanterns in a park in Tehran on March 17, 2015 during the Wednesday Fire feast, or Chaharshanbeh Soori, held annually on the last Wednesday eve before the Spring holiday of Noruz. The Iranian new year that begins on March 20 coincides with the first day of spring during which locals revive the Zoroastrian celebration of lighting a fire and dancing around the flame. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

For the multicultural president, this is a natural time to bid those celebrating the festival of Nowruz a happy new year.

But President Obama on Thursday night also used the Iranian new year festival, Nowruz, to urge the people and leaders of Iran to support a deal limiting the country’s nuclear program. Obama urged them to follow a path that would bring “a brighter future” of trade, ties, investment, jobs and cultural exchanges.

It is, Obama said, “the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.” And he invoked a famous Iranian poet, Hafez, quoting him as saying “many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”

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While the timing of Obama’s pitch to Iranian leaders, as a deadline for completing a nuclear deal draws near, is noteworthy, he isn’t the first president to reach out on the Nowruz holiday.

President George H.W. Bush was the first president to do so. In 1992, he sent greetings to Iranian Americans and thanked them for having “greatly enriched American culture.”

President Clinton sent Nowruz greetings, and on the feast at the end of Ramadan in January 1998, he said that he “regrets the estrangement of our two nations … and I hope that the day will soon come when we can enjoy once again good relations with Iran.”

President George W. Bush also seized upon Nowruz to send a message to the people of Iran. “We have differences with the government, but we honor the people, and we want the people to live in a free society,”Bush said. “It's just sad that the leadership is in many ways very stubborn, because the Iraqi -- the Iranian people are not realizing their true rights.”

Obama sent new year’s greetings the very first year he was in office but he explicitly addressed not only ordinary Iranians but their leaders too. Back then, Obama also said that Iran’s leaders had a choice. “The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms…. The measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

On Thursday night, in a videotaped message, Obama again said that Iran could choose between “two paths.” One would continue hardship and isolation, depriving young Iranians of “the jobs and opportunities they deserve.” The other would lead to trade and integration with the rest of the world, he said.

“I believe that our countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully, with diplomacy,” he said. “A nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for you—the Iranian people, who, as heirs to a great civilization, have so much to give to the world.”

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