As the Obama White House has recalibrated and toughened its daily talking points on Iran in response to the violence of the post-elections dispute, the impression has emerged in some quarters that Washington is flustered by recent events, and indeed, that a wrench has been thrown in President Obama’s hopes for engaging Tehran.
But recent administration assessments and conversations with outside government Iran watchers and non-proliferation experts offer a different view in which Obama’s hand may actually have been strengthened and Iran’s weakened by some overlooked recent events. Among the factors they cite: the outcome of recent elections in Lebanon, in which a pro-western coalition won a majority over a coalition that includes the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the eagerness of Iran’s leading regional ally Syria to engage with Washington, Arab states’ generally positive response to the Obama administration’s strong push to negotiate Middle East peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. Beyond the Middle East, Obama’s aggressive non-proliferation initiatives and “reset” with Moscow could also end up increasing pressure on Iran, they said.
But not everyone shares this view, and nearly everyone agrees this makes it much harder to engage Iran on critical national security issues in the near future:
“My understanding is the president has had a much larger vision,” said one Washington Iran analyst on condition of anonymity. “He wanted a strategic dialogue with the Iranians, he gave them a pathway into the western camp that benefits the west, the people of Iran, and the larger picture: peace and stability in the Middle East.”
“It’s very tough for the president to engage in a serious manner within the next three-to six months because of how the Iranian government has been conducting itself,” said the National Iranian American Council’s Trita Parsi. “It’s politically far more difficult for him to pull this off,” than before the Iranian government crackdown on opposition supporters. “I’m not saying it’s impossible.”
10:37 am: Overnight news
The direct confrontation over Iran’s presidential election was effectively silenced Friday when the main opposition leader said he would seek permits for any future protests, an influential cleric suggested that leaders of the demonstrations could be executed, and the council responsible for validating the election repeated its declaration that there were no major irregularities.
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Security-services commanders have reinforced their already heavy presence in Tehran, a week after the beginning of a brutal crackdown that has reined in unrest following contested June 12 presidential elections. Authorities were reported to be continuing to detain, question and prepare legal proceedings against opposition supporters and those alleged to have participated in recent protests. And the country’s hard-line clerics have rallied behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared landslide poll victory.