At the same time, the Obama White House has proven to be no more successful than its predecessors at halting Iran’s nuclear advance, the singular goal that has driven U.S. policy on Iran since the George H.W. Bush administration. Indeed, Iran’s rate of production of enriched uranium has nearly tripled since Obama took office, while hopes that the president can deliver a solution to the crisis have faded, even among his former admirers in Iran.
“This hand that was stretched out to us turned out to be covered in iron,” said Mousavian, the Iranian diplomat.
As Obama nears the end of his first term, the mixed results of his Iran policy have provided ammunition for supporters — who point to the president’s unparalleled success in uniting the world against a nuclear Iran — but also for his chief political rival, Republican Mitt Romney, who has pounded the White House for failing to halt Iran’s march to a nuclear-weapons capability and accused the president of abandoning Israel, the United States’ top ally in the region.
The Iran record offers unique insights into Obama’s use of power in dealing with an intractable foreign policy challenge that threatens to dominate the agenda of whoever occupies the White House in 2013. On Monday, at the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained defiant in the face of calls for his country to curb its nuclear program and suggested that the United States was being bullied by Israel. Obama is expected to address the issue in remarks before the United Nations on Tuesday.
For now, the Obama administration is seeking to further increase the pain for Iran, responding in part to pressure from Israel and from Congress, which has consistently urged harsher measures, including some that U.S. officials fear could hurt allies as well as Iranians. Although sanctions rarely work, independent analysts say a groundswell of economic unrest could force the regime to make concessions if it sees its survival at risk.
“Two clocks are now running: a nuclear clock and regime-change clock,” said Clifford Kupchan, a former State Department official who now serves as a private consultant on the Middle East. “Sanctions have put a big hole in the revenue side of Iran’s budget, but the leadership doesn’t yet know that it’s on a cliff.”