Iran Elections: What’s Next for U.S. Policy?

The circumstances surrounding Iran's presidential election, and in particular the declaration of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner despite opposition accusations of vote rigging, will present difficulties for any attempt by the Obama administration to diplomatically engage the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The administration had been circumspect during Iran's election campaign, but clearly it was hoping for a reformist victory by either Mir Hossein Moussavi or Mehdi Karrubi. Although neither would have guaranteed a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations, a reformist victory would have made engaging Iran an easier political sell, both in Washington as well as among European and Arab allies. With the status quo in Iran reaffirmed for now, the prospect of a second four-year term for Ahmadinejad is a setback for the Obama team. Even so, it is unlikely that the U.S. will abandon its plans to engage Iran. According to one administration official quoted in the New York Times, "The administration will deal with the situation we have, not what we wish it to be."

The vast majority of Western media outlets have described Friday's result in Iran as a bombshell, with Iran's reformist camp alleging it has been cheated out of what it expected would be a historic victory. The shroud of suspicion hanging over the result adds a further complication for the U.S. as it considers its approach to Iran.

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