Second term Obama is in a very critical moment, not just because of the possibility of a confrontation with Iran but also because he has the highest chance of peacemaking with Iran at hand. Bush missed such a chance by rejecting the Iranian offer of full negotiations right after the US invasion to Iraq. Iran has showed that it is a rational actor when it comes to making existential decisions; they are not a Taliban. As soon as the Islamic Regime felt itself the next target of a US invasion after the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, they put all their so-called ideological dogmas on the table to negotiate over; accepting the UNSC’s bill 598 to make a ceasefire with Iraq to end the 8-year war was another example. Again Iran is at a crossroads; there is existential threat to the regime.
The possibility of an Israeli-Iranian confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program and mullahs’ ambitions in the region is the biggest challenge to US foreign policy; there is no doubt that the US in support of Israel will/should enter the war. Iran’s challenge is not just enriching uranium, as the country is strongly involved in all the regional crises of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also the Syrian now-civil war. Iran has been opposing US interests to secure its own; except for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, these two countries have not found any overlap in their interests. The nuclear program is the figurehead bringing the hidden confrontation to its peak and on the surface. Now is the time for diplomacy’s success, or for a confrontational take over. The long time policy of ‘no war, no peace’ between the two countries is no longer viable.
I believe that the first-term Obama was interested in reaching an agreement but the legislative-executive split made it hard, and more difficult later due to Congress sanctions. Now that he is done with opinion-poll part of his career, Obama has the chance to accomplish something that has the potential of being the most important achievement in his foreign policy: moving towards normalizing relations with Iran. If he brings the Iranians and Israelis to the table, a Camp David Accord possibility for Obama, this is what Obama will be remembered for in foreign policy.
The recent unprecedented crippling sanctions have made the Iranian options very limited: either compromising over its nuclear program (peace) or reacting by enriching at a higher percentage; as Trita Parsi of NIAC has argued, that is the road to war. The sanctions are hurting and have made existential threats to the system. Also, Israel’s constant threat of an airstrike has made the Iranian regime on the alert. Even though until now the 5+1 negotiations with Iran have not been fruitful, the process has shown us that Iran wants to compromise over its nuclear program; in return, Iran requires acceptance of 3 to 5 percent enrichment on Iranian soil, and easing the sanctions.
Soaring tension between Iran and the US is a great opportunity to end the ‘no war no peace’ situation between the two countries; tension is reaching its peak and provides a moment to be taken advantage of. However, no compromise, no agreement. As Roger Cohen and recently Gary Sick have emphasized, the US should offer something in return for its requests from Iran, specifically ‘significant sanction relief for significant concessions from Iran.’ This was the biggest obstacle presented by the Obama administration, heavy pressure in return for concessions; it has failed. Obama should know that although Iran is not a democracy, the regime has a strong concern for public opinion, specifically for what has become a matter of national pride.
Here is what we can be certain about:
Iran does not want confrontation with the US or Israel, but wants to be offered something in order to be able to resolve the nuclear crisis, get some relief from the sanctions, and be permitted to have low level enrichment.
The United States does not want another war in the Middle East, but at the same time it is unacceptable to have a nuclear Iran in the region.
Now it is up to the second-term president to make it clear to the regime in Iran his open hand to make some big decisions if Iran is ready to act more responsibly in the international community. I believe that normalizing with Iran would be an opening to other crises of the region in which Iran is a critical actor.