John McCain’s worst dream has just come true: the White House, amidst in general plan for complete political overhaul, has made the call to engage in “direct” diplomacy with Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ready to play checkers.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ready to play checkers.

Breaching a diplomatic cold war of thirty years, US Ambassador in Iran Susan Rice confirmed that only a complete stop to Iran’s process of uranium enrichment could lead to more lax relations between the two nations. Iran has been warned by the United Nations the last two years for using radioactive products and building nuclear plants, officially as a source of energy, unofficially in an attempt to acquire the atomic bomb. During a brief Q&A yesterday, Rice confirmed that “[…] dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council. And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.”

Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, never concealed his profound disdain for the United States, labeling it the “Great Satan”. However, Obama’s presidency seems to have soften his vision of Americans, as he declared himself ready to “start new approaches”. The question of Iran has often been the cause of tension between McCain and Obama during the electoral campaign. Last June, as the campaign took a more heated, serious turn, McCain declared that Iran was the nation’s most important adversary, and claimed that Barack Obama’s willingness to use a diplomatic approach was “naive” and “guileless”. Talking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the governor of Arizona declared: “The idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refused to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history”. McCain’s rhetoric implied the Republican candidate had little to no answers regarding the Irani problem – but it boiled down to one simple question: negotiate with Iran, or go to war.

Obama, despite not claiming the same foreign policy and national security credentials as his former opponent, knows well that the United States can not afford another war, on financial or human grounds.  As Obama is also sending supposedly retired Robert Malley, his senior foreign policy adviser, to supervise the Egyptian talks on the Gaza ceasefire. This choice highlighted Obama’s willingness to engage towards peaceful and diplomatic solutions to conflicts of security, as Malley was already part of the Clinton Administration and participated, successfully (at least on the short term) to the 2000 Camp David summit. A specialist of conflict resolution, Malley has been studying and commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1984. Such a recognition of knowledge and multiculturalism will surely prove to be an asset in Obama’s foreign policy decisions over the course of his four-year term.

Notwithstanding previous diplomatic collaboration on Iraqi security, Iran and the United States have a troubled, deeply rooted history that reaches far beyond the recent nuclear threat posed by the ambitious Ahmadinejad. Iran’s severe antisemitism, added to its funding of Lebanese fundamentalist party Hezbollah, and now Hamas, have made Iran an obstacle in the United States’ plan for a peace process in the Middle East. But the White House staff is adamant that convincing power is not only firepower: “[we] going to use all elements of our national power to put pressure on Iran’s nuclear program” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. According to NATO’s secretary-general, Japp de Hoop Scheffer, NATO must engage with Iran to secure regional support for the escalating war in neighboring Afghanistan.

All roads point to Iran. Let’s hope Iran will be welcoming.

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