Again, however, President Obama’s only realistic option for now may be to give the new Iranian president a chance to prove – or discredit – himself with actions rather than words.
It’s Congress that may be showing a possible way forward. The House of Representatives last week voted 400-20 to substantially ratchet up the sanction regime imposed on Iran. The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill in September shortly before the next scheduled round of talks between Iran and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
In addition, 76 senators from both sides of the aisle have written a letter to President Obama pointing out that while Mr. Rouhani has “pledged reengagement” with the international community, “Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time.” Thus, they urged the president “to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process…. We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously.”
To be sure, President Rouhani is calling for engagement based on mutual respect and may well pull back if attempts are made to cow him into submission. But if we’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s that the Iranians won’t do anything unless they feel they have to. So continuing to hammer their economy and insisting that they shut down their nuclear efforts, all the while dangling possible regularization of relations, seems the prudent way to avoid military action. Anything less will be perceived as weakness and unquestionably counterproductive.