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Iran election: Obama's dilemma

Be careful when you extend a hand. Sometimes the world bites.

Sanctions and international tisk-tisking, after all, have done little to deter Iran from its pursuit of nuclear weapons technology, Obama’s aides argue. And the fact that American troops virtually surround Iran (in Iraq and Afghanistan) has done little to temper Iran's behavior. If anything, it arguably gives Tehran even more incentive to pursue a nuclear shield.

So some kind of “grand bargain” must be attempted. Even if it is not likely to work, this line of thinking goes, attempting some kind of outreach is a prerequisite to either of the other two policy options: living with a nuclear Iran, or attempting to prevent a nuclear Iran by military force.

Obama’s senior Iran advisers — most notably Dennis Ross, who has just left a State Department post to spearhead Iran policy from within the White House — believes there are things Iran wants that could form the basis of such a bargain. These include international legitimacy, trade and investment with the West, a voice in the future of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a seat appropriate to its rising regional power at the world’s global forums.

That “bargain” was going to be hard to drive with the inflammatory Ahmadinejad even before last weekend’s election. Now, add a question mark about his election, and the betrayal moderate Iranians might feel if America continues to reach out to him, and the challenge becomes almost impossible.

Click here for an overview of GlobalPost's coverage of Iran's election.