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Treading Carefully on Iran

U.S. President Barack Obama's condemnation of the Iranian regime's crackdown on civilians protesting the presidential election marked his strongest words on the crisis since it unfolded more than ten days ago. They also prompted immediate speculation about a slowdown of the Obama administration's stated plans to engage Iran on ending its uranium-enrichment program. During a press conference in Washington on Tuesday, the president offered few clues about his administration's future tack with the Islamic Republic: "We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed," Obama said. But speculation of an altered strategy, or at the very least a diplomatic delay, abounds.

A Wall Street Journal news analysis speculates that Obama's comments about Iran could signal "the beginning of a significant shift in the White House's broader Middle East strategy" in dealing with the regime. Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Robert Kagan, writing in the Washington Post, said the Obama statement on June 23 was "terrific" and called for a summit of U.S. and European leaders so that leading democracies can jointly "offer support for the opposition" and "persuade the regime in Tehran to cease its violent crackdown." On the nuclear issue specifically, some Iran experts see no choice for Washington but to scale back its diplomatic ambitions. "I think that under these circumstances, no one is going to be able to pursue anything because there is nothing to pursue," Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told the New York Times.

A number of Iran analysts believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose contested election to a second term touched off the crisis, would place President Obama on the defensive if...

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