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Obama and Iran: the Clinton dilemma

By Emma White - posted Monday, 19 January 2009

On January 20, Arab and Iranian leaders in particular will breathe a collective sigh of relief as Barack Obama is sworn in as President of the United States of America.

The relationship between Washington and Tehran is now more important than ever as renewed fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza threatens to engulf the region in violence.

Obama’s presidency is a chance for the US to reshape its relationship with Iran away from the failed policies of the Bush administration and towards a new era of co-operation.


Sitting only a few feet away on the podium at the inauguration will be Obama’s new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who many fear will be a thorn in the side of Obama’s promise of a new dawn of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Barack Obama’s November 2008 presidential election victory was greeted with enthusiasm by Middle East leaders.

Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, told reporters that Obama’s election to the presidency was a “watershed” moment for relations between the US and the Middle East, and that Obama must bring “a policy of honest brokership” to the region.

In a landmark gesture, the day after Obama was elected; Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent Obama a congratulatory letter urging him to reshape America’s relations with Iran.

"The great Iranian nation welcomes real, basic and fair changes in behaviour and policies" Ahmadinejad said.

Iran and the US severed diplomatic ties in 1979 after Islamic students held US diplomats hostage in Tehran during the Islamic revolution which ousted the US-backed regime of Shah Pahlavi.


After three decades of hostility, Obama’s presidency brings hope that relations between Washington and Tehran may finally be able to move to a more stable footing based on engagement not fear and mistrust.

A nuclear standoff sits at the heart of the division between Tehran and Washington.

Tehran protests that its nuclear power program is a peaceful one, compliant with the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Washington officials, however, insist that Iran’s civilian capabilities can quickly be turned to military purposes.

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About the Author

Emma White is a researcher in the Department of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of New South Wales. She holds a Masters of International Studies from UNSW. Emma speaks fluent French and has spent many years working and travelling abroad and has resided both in the United States and France.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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