There's a chance of a deal with Iran. Is a re-elected President Obama brave enough to seize it?

Ahmadinejad's regime is worried, and not just about the currency crisis. Below: a comparison of the changes in leadership in America and China flatters neither hugely

Share

Could Barack Obama’s re-election as US President allow an early diplomatic breakthrough with Iran? The confrontation with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions is the most pressing foreign policy problem on the President’s plate. And his re-election does make a difference.

It would be idle to talk of dramatic initiatives, of Obama acting as Nixon did with China, and flying out to embrace the Ayatollah on the tarmac. Inspiring though the thought of some great diplomatic gesture might be, the US public has been too bombarded with demonising rhetoric about Iran ever to accept an initiative that might end in humiliating rebuff. Obama has gone too far down the road of tightening sanctions to do a complete about face now, even if it was in his nature to do so.

As Tehran is widely blamed – not altogether fairly – for supporting President Assad in the Syrian civil war and stirring up Hezbollah in Lebanon, now is hardly the best time for a US leader to show favour towards it.

In any case, Tehran is embroiled in its own internal power struggles which pit President Ahmadinejad against the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, so it is very much a moot point as to how it might respond to any gesture on Washington’s part. With as much pride as America’s, the Iranians are more than capable of shooting themselves in the foot by taking an offer of talks as a sign of weakness.

And yet there are solid reasons for believing that a breakthrough could be managed. One is the lessening threat of unilateral action by Israel. Having thrown himself so wholeheartedly in support of Mitt Romney, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can hardly call in any favours from the White House. If Obama, who clearly dislikes the Israeli premier personally, were to give him the cold shoulder now, the much-vaunted US Israeli lobby could hardly complain .

Even if it were not so, the steady drumbeat of former Israeli generals and Mossad chiefs coming out in public to say an airstrike on Iran would be madness suggests that Netanyahu hasn’t the support at home that he needs for taking his country to war on this issue.

At the same time, there are also intriguing signs that Tehran is looking for a compromise. In the general din of a US election, little notice has been taken of them. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in between taunting Americans with Holocaust denial, came out with an important and apparently serious suggestion at the UN meeting last September that Iran would be willing to suspend uranium enrichment under certain conditions.

More surprising still, the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran  has come out this week with a document emphasising the benefits of negotiation and warning of the dangers of military escalation. It may not be radical in its suggestions but its tone is distinctly pacific.

You could put these signals down to the pressure of sanctions on the country, which are becoming more and more burdensome. And you can argue that they  are meaningless in the context of the shifting sands of politics in  the country.

But the regime is worried, and not just about the currency crisis, the pain of falling oil revenues and rising import prices. The very fact that its internal politics have become more precarious whilst its regional standing has been undermined by the Arab Spring may well make it feel that now  is the time to mend fences with  the West.

Obama’s victory provides the opportunity. Given the alternatives, it would be irresponsible if he didn’t at least test the waters.

What’s so good about democracy?

All the comparisons between how America elects its leader and China appoints one rather miss the point. There is a world of political difference between a growing country and a contracting one. In the former case, it doesn’t really matter what kind of politics you have, democratic or authoritarian.

However, once the economy turns, the politics grow more important and more difficult. Democracy should be preferable because it stands a better chance of reconciling competing claims on a diminishing pot.

But then, looking at the politics of Europe or the US election, one might well conclude the opposite – that democracies find austerity more difficult to cope with than authoritarian regimes do.

Perhaps the Chinese Communist Party can manage things better from the centre. Listening to the speech of the retiring President, Hu Jintao, at the congress in Beijing on Wednesday, with its references to social harmony and improved living standards, you could have been listening to Obama.

The one difference was the emphasis Hu put on rooting out corruption. We don’t hear any of that in the West. Maybe we should.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee