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Which world hot spots will clamor for Obama's attention in second term?

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Iran – which insists that its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes – would almost certainly be required to ship its stockpile of 20-percent-purified uranium out of the country, while opening up its facilities to an intrusive international inspection regime, nuclear experts say. Iran will seek an easing of tough international economic sanctions – sanctions the US is likely to add to in the run-up to any negotiations – in return for any steps it takes. One possible stumbling block: Israel wants no easing of sanctions until Iran gives up all enrichment activity.

Some US officials continue privately to hold out hope for a "grand bargain" between the US and Iran that would add restored diplomatic relations to a resolution of the nuclear issue. But in the eyes of most regional analysts, Obama will face a tough enough time reaching an interim nuclear deal with Iran before pressure for airstrikes – and what could become a disastrous Middle East war – becomes irresistible.

SYRIA: Will the US play a more robust role?

When Obama hastily dispatched Secretary Clinton to help broker a cease-fire in the Gaza missile conflict at the end of November, some regional analysts took it as a sign of the administration's postelection reengagement in the Middle East and the harbinger of a more robust US role in ending Syria's 21-month-long civil war.

That may have been wishful thinking on the part of pro-intervention forces. Obama may indeed try to demonstrate increased support for the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, but that seems unlikely to include any rush to arm the rebels with the more sophisticated and high-powered weapons they seek.

"The president has never taken the supplying of arms off the table," the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, told a recent gathering of international humanitarian organizations in Washington. The White House continues to debate whether more arms would help "in reaching the political solution Syria needs, or make it harder," he added.

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