Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert in US-Iran relations, says the opportunity for dialogue still exists. But with Republican presidential candidates promising they’d be even tougher on Iran, the chances of Obama extending a hand to Tehran before November seem slight.
When Obama talked about a “comprehensive” Mideast peace upon taking office, one of the elements of such a peace was to be a Syria that no longer looked to Iran for support and guidance. Administration officials thought the young Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad could be coaxed down a different path through dialogue – and as a result the US ambassador’s post that had sat vacant under George W. Bush was filled.
But that was before the Arab Spring and the bloody repression in Syria. The US still has its ambassador, Robert Ford, in Damascus, but his principle interlocutor is no longer President Assad but the Syrian people as they battle for Assad’s departure.
Obama publicly called for Assad to “step aside” in August, and since then the tenor of the administration’s statements on Syria has only hardened. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a high-profile meeting in November with a group of Syrian opposition leaders, but the door to dialogue with Assad appears to be closed shut.