Despite genuine efforts at engaging Tehran, such as the Nowruz greetings issued by President Barack Obama this past Saturday and a similar Internet video released the previous year, the Obama administration has proven unable to resolve U.S. differences with the Iranian government over Iran's nuclear program, regional security issues, or other disputes. Developments thus far do not portend any greater success this year.
The decades of hostility and mistrust between Washington and Tehran made any bilateral reconciliation effort inevitably problematic. The unanticipated advent of a powerful mass movement in Iran seeking to change the regime's policies -- and, perhaps, the regime itself -- has further complicated engagement efforts in the short-term, even if it offers the prospect of an enduring reconciliation in the long-term, should the opposition succeed. Both liberals and conservatives in the United States have pressed the Obama administration to pursue a harder human rights line toward Tehran, while Iranian leaders erroneously see Washington's hand behind their domestic upheavals.
Upon his inauguration, Obama's main challenge was that the expectations of change in U.S. foreign policy were greater than the real possibilities of such change. U.S. foreign policy tends to be characterized by continuity between administrations. True to form, the past year has seen few sharp policy deviations from the Bush administration's second term, despite Obama's more eloquent and softer public tone. The lack of change has unnerved progressives without appeasing the administration's conservative critics, but the president's general foreign polices still enjoy the support of most of Washington's foreign policy elite -- although even that has begun to erode.