During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama made a "talk to
our enemies" position a highlight of his diplomatic vision, using
that stance in particular to underscore how American foreign policy
under him would change toward Iran.
But neither close Obama advisers nor Iran experts are expecting a
rush to dialogue with Tehran come Jan. 20, for a number of tactical
and event-driven reasons:
* The economic crisis will consume much of the new president's
attention and is likely to put off major diplomatic initiatives.
* The sinking price of oil is seen as having clipped Iran's
wings, raised domestic woes for Tehran, and made negotiations
somewhat less urgent.
* And, most important, Iran holds presidential elections in June,
leaving the United States wary of doing anything beforehand that
might be used by Iran's extremist and anti-Western forces - in
particular President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - to electoral advantage.
None of this means Iran can be expected to have slowed its
nuclear program and its pursuit of uranium-enrichment technology,
Iran experts say. Indeed, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the
International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday in its latest
report on Iran that the country continues to build up its store of
low-enriched uranium - it now has 630 kilograms (1,385 pounds)
stockpiled - which, with the right know-how, could be the basis for
conversion to the highly enriched uranium that would be needed for a
Still, what seems more likely than a quick invitation to direct
talks with Tehran is a period of reestablishing relations with
partners also influential with Iran. The new administration could
also explore means of multiplying contacts with lower-tier Iranian
"Barack Obama made it clear he was prepared to engage Iran
directly, but he also said we have to prepare," said Dennis Ross,
Mr. Obama's top Middle East adviser, speaking Tuesday at a meeting
of the Anti-Defamation League in Denver.
What that is likely to mean, Iran and nonproliferation experts
say, is that while dialogue and diplomacy are a foregone conclusion,
the priority in the new administration will be on getting any Iran
"The question now changes from the what to the how - things like
sequence and timing," says Joseph Cirincione, president of the
Ploughshares Fund, a Washington-based advocate of curtailing the
spread of nuclear weapons.
Concerning timing, he says his recommendation to Obama is "wait -
do not rush into this."
Why? Mr. Cirincione cites Iran's presidential election in June.
"We want to see how domestic politics play out in the Iranian
elections next year," he said Tuesday, speaking to the National
Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington. …