There’s a small tempest brewing in Washington. A few people are getting impatient and frustrated, wondering why Iran hasn’t responded more clearly to Obama’s overtures. Others, like Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), never put much stock in Obama’s engagement anyway, and are again pushing for stronger sanctions against Iran.
Obama’s inner circle, meanwhile, is patiently waiting for Iran to come to the table. That is the change – the United States is coming to the table. They expect Iran to do so as well, and that’s when the real diplomacy will take place. Everything up to this point has been signaling intentions and changing atmospherics.
Obama and his inner circle on Iran policy understand that Tehran is caught up in the Presidential election and don’t expect earth-shattering declarations or moves right now. It is telling enough that all the most prominent candidates for President have come out in favor of talks with the United States. That in itself is a huge change.
Atmospherics do matter.
So as others fret and talk about deadlines for diplomacy, it is significant to see that President Obama isn’t changing his tune. In talking to Newsweek, he reiterates what he said during his Norooz speech: the United States is willing to accept an Islamic Republic of Iran and end its policy of containment if Iran aligns itself “with international norms and international rules.”
Transcript below the fold:
Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming [to Washington this week]. How do you expect to talk to him about the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran? And some people have argued that we should not take [American military action] off the table.
I’ve been very clear that I don’t take any options off the table with respect to Iran. I don’t take options off the table when it comes to U.S. security, period. What I have said is that we want to offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international norms and international rules. I think, ultimately, that will be better for the Iranian people. I think that there is the ability of an Islamic Republic of Iran to maintain its Islamic character while, at the same time, being a member in good standing of the international community and not a threat to its neighbors. And we are going to reach out to them and try to shift off of a pattern over the last 30 years that hasn’t produced results in the region.
Now, will it work? We don’t know. And I assure you, I’m not naive about the difficulties of a process like this. If it doesn’t work, the fact that we have tried will strengthen our position in mobilizing the international community, and Iran will have isolated itself, as opposed to a perception that it seeks to advance that somehow it’s being victimized by a U.S. government that doesn’t respect Iran’s sovereignty.
And you would expect the Israelis, as an ally, to follow along with that and not take unilateral [military] action?
No, look, I understand very clearly that Israel considers Iran an existential threat, and given some of the statements that have been made by President Ahmadinejad, you can understand why. So their calculation of costs and benefits are going to be more acute. They’re right there in range and I don’t think it’s my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are.
I can make an argument to Israel as an ally that the approach we are taking is one that has to be given a chance and offers the prospect of security, not just for the United States but also for Israel, that is superior to some of the other alternatives.
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