It’s encouraging that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently stated that the now politicized dispute over Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved by direct talks between Iran and the United States. This is a major shift in the Iranian president’s understanding.
When I visited Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 as a possible candidate to work for the foreign ministry, we discussed Iran-US relations and the role of the US on the nuclear file. At that time, he disagreed with my recommendation to bolster dialogue with the West – including the US – to resolve the nuclear dilemma. He saw enrichment as a technical, legal issue, a legitimate right for Iran under the Non Proliferation Treaty. I cautioned that for the West, it is neither a legal nor technical issue issue, but a political one, which requires direct talks with the US to be resolved.
Whether his recent comments are a matter of consensus within Iran, however, remains a big question.
Another question is whether President Obama will be able to orchestrate a “real engagement” with Iran – in contrast to his first term where he applied devastating unilateral and international sanctions, pressure, covert operations, and an intelligence war. Those measures only contributed to further tensions and a thickening of the wall of mistrust between the two nations – wiping any chance of rapprochement off the political map.