Feature

How Obama should handle Iran

Is now the time for direct talks with Tehran, or for getting the world to impose sanctions?

Talk about change, said Nazila Fathi in The New York Times. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran—a country that has shared no diplomatic ties with the U.S. for three decades—sent a letter congratulating Barack Obama on his election victory. This note, along with a letter to President Bush, suggest that Tehran might finally be interested in opening a dialogue with the U.S. despite a stalemate over Iran's nuclear program.

Israel's leaders are urging Obama not to talk to Iran, said Matthew Yglesias in Think Progress, because they think that would look like "weakness." But "to my mind what would signal weakness would be to reverse a major, high-profile campaign pledge" to talk with America's enemies. Obama secured the support of nearly 80 percent of Jewish voters, so "he can afford politically" to stick to his guns.

Fine, said The Jerusalem Post in an editorial, as long as the talks are "aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons." And Obama can forget about getting Tehran's full attention unless he backs up tough talk with "draconian sanctions." Anything less and the new U.S. administration has no hope of sidelining "the region's No. 1 obstacle to peace."

Give Obama a chance to see what he can do, said Lebanon's The Daily Star in an editorial. "The alternatives to direct talks—including isolation, economic sanctions, threats of military action, and other forms of sabre rattling—have been doggedly pursued by the Bush administration for the last eight years." When something doesn't work, you try something else.

Obama will have one huge advantage, said Gordon Chang in Commentary magazine online. Unlike President Bush, who always had trouble mustering international support for his policies, Obama is basking in the world's love. He might be able to get the international community to impose sanctions "whether he talks to the Iranians without preconditions or not. With the rest of the world on our side, conversations with the mullahs can be especially productive."

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