By Laicie Heeley
August 2, 2013
The election of new president Hassan Rowhani in Iran has presented a rare moment of modest optimism, both in Congress and in the administration, for a deal with Iran. But if the moment is not seized, it will be short-lived.
Skeptical observers see the installation of a more moderate president as leading to more stalling by Iran, and will be quick to call for tougher action if a next round of talks does not quickly produce results. The administration should be cognizant of this limited time in its formulation of a stance concerning renewed discussions in the fall, and should begin to build support in Congress now for the presentation of a serious, mutually beneficial offer that represents both a positive show of faith, and a test of Iran’s new president.
In the lead up to Rowhani’s inauguration and beginning of the next round of nuclear talks, there is already a small window of support for diplomacy that hasn’t existed in the past. One example of this is a recent bipartisan effort in the House, launched by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Charlie Dent (R-PA). The letter, signed by 131 members of Congress, urges the Obama administration to “pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran’s recent presidential election” and expresses the belief that “it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rowhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress.” Though a seemingly modest effort, the letter represents a rare moment of unity, both within Congress and between Congress and the administration.
This window of opportunity, however, will be short. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has expressed skepticism over the prospect of a deal. In a recent statement, he called president-elect Hassan Rowhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” saying the incoming Iranian leader would “smile and build a bomb.”
This view represents a chief concern among conservative lawmakers as well: the new president may represent nothing more than a distraction that will allow Iran’s nuclear program to advance. Both Israeli leaders and U.S. conservatives can be expected to react strongly to any failure to move the ball forward quickly.
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