Needless to say, though, there are still enormous obstacles that make achieving an agreement unlikely.
First, the Obama administration itself is divided, and the White House is under pressure from hawks and hardliners not to make any concessions to Iran. In December, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a neoconservative, sent a letter to the White House explicitly opposing any deal that would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium: ‘We believe that it is critical that the United States and our partners make clear that, given the government of Iran’s pattern of deception and non-cooperation, its government cannot be permitted to maintain any enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future,’ wrote the senators. ‘We would strongly oppose any proposal for a diplomatic endgame in which Iran is permitted to continue these activities in any form.’
Not only that, but a rising chorus of hardliners, led by Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another neoconservative, is calling on Obama to threaten Iran with military force. Graham announced that Republicans would support Obama if and only if ‘he decides to be tough on Iran, beyond sanctions.’ That message is being underlined by the new Republican leaders of the House of Representatives, where the extremely hawkish Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida has taken over the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Obama will have little or no manoeuvring room to make a deal with Iran, and he’ll find it extremely difficult to sell a deal to the hawks in Congress.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Second, to a great extent, Obama has poisoned the well over the past year by pushing for a punishing regime of sanctions against Iran as part of the so-called ‘dual track’ policy of both diplomacy and pressure. In so doing, he has undermined the goodwill he sought to garner by his vaunted opening to Iran starting in January 2009.
When the first round of talks with Iran in October 2009 ran aground over Iran’s back-and-forth dithering over accepting a preliminary deal involving the TRR, the Obama administration lost its nerve and returned to a policy of pressure, threats and sanctions. Then, in the spring of 2010, when Brazil and Turkey revived the TRR deal and won Iran’s acceptance in an accord known as the Tehran Declaration, the White House unaccountably condemned it. (Still, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, the top aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said as late as November, ‘The Tehran Declaration is still valid.’)
Though sanctions, including a set of unilateral measures imposed by the United States and other nations outside the UN Security Council framework, have had a strong impact on Iran’s economy over the past six months, it’s very unlikely that the economic pressure will cause Iran to abandon its fierce determination to retain its nuclear enrichment programme. Late last year, Mehdi Mohammedi, a writer for Tehran’s Kayhan newspaper, which reflects the views of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, penned a lengthy essay arguing that ‘pressure, instead of augmenting the path to negotiations, damages it,’ adding: ‘Iran will not, under any cost, relinquish its nuclear enrichment.’