One reason why President Obama and other very senior U.S. officials personally met with a select group of leading columnists and opinion writers at the White House last week was to highlight the often overlooked progress his administration has achieved in securing comprehensive European support for the U.S. policy toward Iran. Although it is too early to judge the effects of the new sanctions adopted by the EU and the United States independently and collectively through the United Nations, we can begin to assess the administration's multilateral diplomacy. At least in the case of Europe, that diplomacy seems to be working well. We will know more about this issue in coming weeks as governments in Asia and the Middle East respond to U.S. requests to adopt their own supplementary sanctions beyond those required by the U.N. Security Council.
One of the few positive outcomes of last July's disputed Iranian presidential election and the failed U.S. diplomatic initiatives toward Iran was to make it easier for the Obama administration to induce foreign governments to adopt a harder stance towards Tehran. In Europe, the tarnished vote, accompanied by the regime's massive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, sharply diminished the legitimacy and popularity of the Iranian government. The non-confrontational approach of the Obama administration toward Iran also made Europeans, where Obama enjoys very high popularity, more comfortable following Washington's lead on this issue even when the Obama administration stressed the punishment track more than the engagement track. British, French, and German leaders found widespread popular support for applying increased diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran.