A Troubling Convergence of Interest
President Obama's "smart diplomacy" with Iran has turned sour. His belated sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue have not brought bring Iran to the negotiating table, nor opened it to effective international inspections. Instead, they appear to have increased Iranian resolve in their concerted push for nuclear weapons. And they have set oil prices shooting skywards, increasing the price of gasoline at the pump in America.
For Obama, a defiant Iranian announcement on the nuclear front before November and continuing high oil prices through the summer and fall would be a nightmare from the point of view of the President's prospects for winning a second term in November.
If you look at the same prospects from the point of view of the Iranian leadership, an Obama loss in November would be an outright tragedy. No realistically conceivable successor to Obama is ever likely to grant Iran the unstinting patience with which President Obama has treated its headlong push to nuclear weapons, accompanied by drum rolls of Death to America and wiping Israel off the map.
Thus it emerges that two players in the arena of international politics share a direct, essentially personal, and weighty interest in Obama's re-election this November: The leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and U.S. President Obama himself. This convergence of interests may help us understand indications of secret contacts and back-channel negotiations between the present US administration and the Iranian leadership. As close Obama associate and former US Senator Chuck Hagel allegedly stated in an interview on March 12: "There may be back-channel talks, I don't see any other way around this."
The history of Iranian intransigence and deceptiveness regarding its nuclear ambitions hardly offer a reasonable hope that such contacts would divert Iran from those nuclear ambitions. But in light of the confluence of interest between the Iranian leadersip and president Obama regarding his second term quite another hope for what such contacts might accomplish emerges: That of a grand gesture from the Iranian leadership in good time before November 2012 that would allow President Obama to bask in the warm glow of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran on nuclear negotiations, redeeming his dismal foreign policy record, and so helping him win a second term in November. The stakes would seem sufficiently high to make secret, back-channel talks an attractive option for both parties.
The Iranian leadership presumably has not forgotten that its intransigence in the US Teheran Embassy Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980 plausibly contributed to the defeat of US President Carter's bid for a second term in November 1980. He was replaced by Ronald Reagan, and within minutes of the latter's assuming office, the Teheran hostages were formally released. Correctly timed, a 2012 Iranian grand gesture of accomodation and compliance on the nuclear issue would cost little in terms of continued Iranian nuclear preparations, but might just yield four more years in which to complete those preparations without undue external interference.
Under these circumstances, would it be reasonable to assume that neither the Iranian leadership nor Obama are alive to the potential benefits of such behind-the-scenes negotiations?