“The Making of an Iran Policy”

“The Making of an Iran Policy”
July 30, 2009, Analysis by Roger Cohen
     Roger Cohen outlines the issues facing the Barack Obama administration in implementing its policy of engaging Iran in the aftermath of Iran’s controversial June elections. Obama’s strategy of engagement has pressured Tehran to reciprocate, and Cohen says one indicator of Tehran’s willingness to talk will be whether Saeed Jalili, a “chief architect” of the crackdown on domestic opposition, remains chief nuclear negotiator. Some Iranian analysts have suggested to officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Khamenei who has praised Obama, lead talks with the US. However, Obama’s efforts have been undermined not only by the post-election controversy but also by Khamenei’s alignment with President Ahmadinejad. Cohen argues that Tehran is “in no position to talk right now” as the regime struggles to maintain its hold on power.
     In Washington, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden have sought a harder line, Cohen writes that Obama is driving Iran policy and that Clinton’s role is “clearly ancillary”. Cohen identifies Dennis Ross, a senior White House advisor, as a key player in Obama’s Iran strategy. Originally assigned to the State Department, where his role was marginalized by Clinton and Undersecretary of State William Burns, Ross is known for his ties with the American Jewish community and for advocating some hawkish measures against Iran. Cohen writes Ross’ promotion to the National Security Council neatly removed Ross from direct involvement in any potential bilateral talks with Iran.
     The US also faces difficulties in uniting Arab allies as well as China and Russia against Iran. While sanctions remain a “back end” solution if engagement fails, Obama hopes to exploit Tehran’s current weakness by isolating Iran through pragmatic outreach to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas as well as talks of upgrading the defenses of regional allies. Finally, Cohen argues that an Israeli strike against Iran, which Ross believes is a distinct possibility, is Obama’s “least-favored outcome”, indicating that Obama may ultimately settle for a policy of deterrence against a nuclear Iran. Cohen also mentions that the US could try to prevent an Israeli strike by implementing an existing covert program aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear supply chain and undermining its computer systems.
New York Times Magazine

Related posts:
“Syrian-Saudi summit, US ‘power play’ efforts aim to isolate Iran”
“Dennis Ross contradicts Obama, may face resignation”

Click here for an exclusive Simons Centre interview conducted in April 2008 with Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei


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