Although the deep fissures among the Iranian ruling elite precipitated by the tainted presidential election persist, the victor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is moving to consolidate his power and has even turned his attention outward.
Iran announced last week that it was ready to resume talks with an international consortium, including the United States, but its proposed agenda was vague and pointedly excluded mention of its nuclear program.
While Iran has the right under an international treaty to undertake peaceful, nonmilitary nuclear development, there is wide suspicion that it is working secretly on developing nuclear weapons, an uncertainty heightened by its refusal to cooperate with United Nations inspectors. Most experts think Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for at least one bomb although there is disagreement on how close it is to building a weapon.
Tehran continues to defy a U.N. Security Council resolution to stop producing nuclear fuel and has been undeterred by three sets of watered-down sanctions. American and European officials are touting additional steps, including a ban on new energy investment in Iran and a cutoff of gasoline exports to Iran.
U.S. participation in direct talks with Tehran is an about-face from Bush administration policy, in keeping with President Obama's long-stated willingness to engage adversaries diplomatically. After decades of enmity, the two nations have a range of issues to discuss -- from encouraging Iran to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan to cutting its ties to Hezbollah and Hamas, disruptive players in the Middle East -- but the nuclear issue is the priority.
Fashioning a common diplomatic front is chancy, given the aversion of China and Russia to tougher steps, but if they won't go along, the United States and Europe must act on their own.