“We all have been harmed. Today more than ever we need unity,” said former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during Friday prayers at Tehran University on July 17. It was a crucial sermon and, in the manner of many things Persian, purposefully and delicately opaque. Some thought Rafsanjani’s speech was a direct threat to the Ahmadi-Khamenei regime. He demanded the release of political prisoners, an end to violence against protesters, the restoration of Iran’s (intermittently) free press. Others thought Rafsanjani, speaking with the approval of the Supreme Leader, was trying to build a bridge between the opposition and the regime. For me, it brought back memories of a less opaque Friday-prayers sermon I’d actually seen Rafsanjani deliver in December 2001, in which he spoke of the need for an “Islamic bomb.”
The signature foreign policy initiative of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was his desire to begin negotiations with Iran. It was ridiculed by John McCain and by Hillary Clinton, now his Secretary of State. Obama persisted, with reason: it was a good idea. How he proceeds now, after Iran’s brutal electoral debacle, could be the most important foreign policy decision of his presidency. As Clinton made clear in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations two days before Rafsanjani spoke, the Obama Administration has not wavered in its desire for talks. And yet, the body language has changed. [continued…]
In raising the possibility of a “defense umbrella,” Clinton insisted that she was not abandoning the current U.S. policy toward Iran, which involves a combination of diplomatic outreach and sanctions. Even so, her words suggested that U.S. officials are looking ahead in case the approach, which faces formidable obstacles, proves unsuccessful.
Although President Obama has pushed hard to draw the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table, some U.S. officials and many outside experts have doubts that outreach efforts will succeed. And the likely next step, an effort to organize tougher international economic sanctions, faces strong resistance from Russia, China and India. [continued…]