As Congress has made this implausible for now, bilateral talks between Tehran and Washington are not likely to take place any time soon. On the other hand, the United States and Iran will inevitably meet to negotiate the latter's nuclear program in the context of the multilateral "P5+1" talks scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26.
So, what can Mr. Obama do in order to maximize diplomacy's chance of success despite structural congressional strictures? The answer is clear: Explore and exercise those foreign-policy options that cannot be easily hindered by Congress.
Ahead of these crucial negotiations, the president can do several things.
For one, he can pledge before the talks begin that if Iran makes concessions on its program, he will suspend executive sanctions (as opposed to congressional ones) and revoke asset seizures that were conducted through executive orders. The Treasury Department's Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) has tremendous latitude that Obama can use to ease pressure on Iran.
Making such a pledge would signal to Tehran that Washington is genuinely committed to making a deal, while setting a new tone for US allies in their approach to Iran. After all, if Obama takes this approach, they, too, would need to see that there will be a difference between the Iran policy of his first and second terms.