Mr. Obama's outreach to Iran is an important step that comes early in his administration, but was long, long overdue in terms of US-Iran relations - and you can be sure that diplomatic Neanderthals like John Bolton and Charles Krauthammer will be bellowing from their peculiar pulpits.
But having reached out, Mr. Obama must now follow through, and skillfully. Obama is preaching respect for Iran's civilization, etc., saying many of the right things, but the Iranians will be looking for actions that reflect the words, and that suggest that the US recogizes Iran as a regional power whom it ought to approach as a peer, not as a hegemon. And the timing here is crucial. As Haaretz has reported, Muhammad Khatami, the reformist ex-president of Iran, has exhorted all the reformist groups in Iran to unite behind this year's reformist candidate, Mr. Kossavi. At the end of his own presidency, Mr. Khatami's outreach to the US (which included significant cooperation with the US in the wake of 9-11) was undercut by Bush's idiotic State of the Union address that identified Iran as part of the "axis of evil." That stung terribly in Iran, and destroyed any credibility Khatami's policies still had at the time.
Iran's current president, the conservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad, is running again in the June elections, but is widely seen as vulnerable because of the failures of his economic policy and the stridency of his anti-US rhetoric. The reformists may have a real opening to make some gains, but a failure by Obama and his Iran team (of whom the Iranians are rightfully wary, as it's led by Dennis Ross, seen by many as attached at the hip to the Israel Lobby) to follow through, and soon, could undercut the reformists and cement another term for Mr. Ahmadinejad. If that were to happen, the chances of a US-supported Israeli attack on Iran, in my estimation, go up significantly - with consequences I can only shudder to imagine.
Los Angeles Times: Obama overture elicits cautious response from Iran
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