Obama’s Open Hand

I was thinking this morning about how a lot of the Obamaadministration’s initial foreign policy moves have amounted to lettinggo of unrealistic and counterproductive Bush administration demands –whether made of friends, partners or adversaries — that hadessentially trapped us into losing positions. Dialing backdemands on NATO allies in Afghanistan, shelving missiledefense to reset relations with Russia, dropping inflammatory rhetoricwith Iran(and I think ultimately moving the redline back from uranium enrichmentto preventing weaponization of the Iranian nuclear program): all ofthese represent areas where the Bush line could not be held, and whereletting go of them — something the Bush administration was […]

Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a leading researcher on Iran. The following interview originally appeared on CEIP’s Web site. Why did President Barack Obama choose this occasion [the New Year holiday of Nowruz] for his video message to Iran? Karim Sadjadpour: It’s very thoughtful timing. In acknowledging Nowruz, President Obama showed the Iranian people that he has an appreciation for their culture and history. In Dubai, the reaction among the huge Iranian expat community has been overwhelmingly and universally positive. Was there anything about the tone and language of Obama’s remarks that […]

Obama: Happy New Year; Iran: Thanks

President Barack Obama makes a video for the Iranian government and people, saying, “Happy New Year, guys. I’m willing to talk if you’re willing to change your behavior.” The Iranian government says, “Thanks, but we’re kind of busy organizing an Af-Pak summit of our own. Oh, and by the way, Syria’s still our friend, and no, we won’t forego domestic uranium enrichment, especially if it’s that loser, Gordon Brown, who asks us to. Anyway, thanks again for the New Year’s wishes. When you’re ready to actually change some policies of your own, you know where to find us.” Of note […]

News that former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, hailed as a reformer, would challenge sitting hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in upcoming elections proved oddly short-lived. Just five weeks after sparking jubilation among his supporters by proclaiming his candidacy, the 65-year-old cleric poured cold water on the celebrations with the announcement that he had decided to withdraw, opening a minuscule new window into the mysterious machinations of Iran’s unique brand of theocratic democracy. Iranians, and the rest of the world, are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the June voting to see if Ahmadinejad will manage to stay in power. The electoral process […]

Iran’s Pre-Nuclear Deterrent

Dan Drezner is bearish on the prospects of negotiations with Iran yielding any major concessions on its nuclear program: Pragmatically, I seriously doubt that the United States can offeranything to get Tehran to halt its nuclear program. This leads to oneof two possible decisions: pre-emptive action to delay the program, oraccepting the inevitable. Contra Cohen, the most pragmatic thing for the United Statesto do is to expect nothing fruitful to come from negotiations with Iran– and to (nonviolently) prepare for the contingency of a nuclear Iran. A question to myrealist colleagues here at FP — why on God’s green earth […]

France: Middle Power Payback?

I mentioned the other day how Turkey might come out on the losing end of the Obama administration’s willingness to engage Syria and Iran. I also mentioned that France fit into the category of Middle Powers that had benefited from the late-Bush 43 period. France is a bit more complicated, because it filled not only the communication vacuum created by the Bush administration’s isolation policies, but also the more generalized leadership vacuum created by the extended lame duck period. One area where the two vacuums overlapped, though, was with regards to Iran’s nuclear program. To begin with, France as part […]

Will Russia supply Iran with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system? That is the most important — and persistent — question regarding Russia’s ongoing arms sales to Iran. The repeated rumors and confusion regarding a possible sale indicate that Russian policymakers are divided over the issue. It also illustrates the degree of mistrust between the Russian and Iranian national security communities over the subject of bilateral arms transfers in general, and disagreement over the extent to which Moscow should support Iranian defense aspirations over American and Israeli objections in particular. The “S-300” family encompasses a range of specific models that […]

The Devil We Don’t Know in Iran

In a recent WPR Briefing on the Iranian nuclear program, the Arms Control Association’s Peter Crail explained why the most credible risk of Iranian weaponization came from the areas of “Known Unknowns” that lie outside of IAEA inspection oversight. Today at Arms Control Wonk, Andreas Persbo fills in the outlines with a detailed description of the most worrying suspects in the “Known Unknowns” lineup: Iran’s domestic uranium mining sector, and as Crail discussed, an alternate, clandestine conversion and enrichment facility. The former is for now entirely outside the IAEA’s oversight activities and, in combination with the latter, could feed raw […]

What are the two most pressing issues on the U.S. foreign policy agenda? Ask that question of 10 foreign policy mavens and nine will say Afghanistan and Iran. The other one will say Iran and Afghanistan. If the Obama administration manages to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and find a (lasting) solution to the vexing problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions over the next four years, it’s hard to imagine his first term won’t be deemed a smashing foreign policy success. It is against this background that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting today in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister […]

Something small but historic happened on the shores of the Red Sea on Monday. As delegates to the Palestinian donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh gathered for lunch, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem was standing near the door to the banquet room. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked by, and instead of staring straight ahead or finding a reason to turn in the opposite direction as an American diplomat might have done during the Bush era, she walked straight towards Moualem, shook his hand, and held a brief conversation. That was the moment when Washington […]

Engagement Doesn’t Guarantee Results

The Obama administration’s outreach efforts — Russia here, Syria here, Iran in the works — are certainly a welcome corrective to the Bush administration’s insistence on isolation and conditioned negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’ll work any better. The problem in all three cases is that being a spoiler offers more leverage and influence than being part of the solution. So long as a stable and peaceful Middle East is a high priority for Washington, then Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can say things like, “If you want to talk about peace, you can’t advance without Syria.” But outside of a stable […]

In response to a question about suspected Iraqi weapons of mass destruction seven years ago, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said,”There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.” As tortuous as his formulation was, the notions he raised may be of some use putting recent developments regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment program in proper perspective. The activities that we know of, such as Iran’s uranium enrichment progress, are certainly of serious concern. But what will pose […]