Against the backdrop of Washington's efforts to tighten international sanctions on Iran, President Barack Obama's latest reiteration of his offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue with the Islamic Republic smacks of disingenuousness and insincerity. During the U.S. presidential campaign in 2009, candidate Obama won applause around the world for boldly declaring his readiness to meet with Iranian leaders and find a negotiated end to the nuclear question and other issues bedevilling bilateral relations. But ever since he got to the White House, the Democratic president has been unable to shake off the legacy of 30 years of American hostility towards Tehran. President Obama's first false step was to ignore President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and send a message directly to the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Whatever his motivations, Mr. Obama's approach was seen by Iran as a crude attempt to play factions, a belief validated later when Washington openly took sides in the stand-off between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who lost the presidential contest last year in an election widely believed to have been rigged. Encouraged by the apparent street power of the opposition Green Movement, the Obama administration committed a further blunder in believing that a regime change from within was imminent. Labouring under this illusion, it has allowed promising diplomatic proposals aimed at building confidence in the nuclear arena to wither on the vine.

Compounding Washington's gross misreading of the situation within Iran is the virtual veto on Iranian policy the Obama administration appears to have given to Israel. Tel Aviv's mindless rhetoric about the need for military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran has been used by American officials to steamroller the international community into supporting tougher sanctions against Tehran. There is, as yet, no formal proposal before the U.N. Security Council but the U.S., Britain, and France are keen to introduce a ban on gasoline sales to Iran, given that country's lack of refining capacity and its dependence on imported petrol. Among the key UNSC members, Brazil, Turkey, and China have come out against the plan. Beijing's opposition is notable because of its significant energy ties with Iran and the fact that it has a veto. India is not a member of the Security Council but needs nevertheless to join the international debate by joining issue with those who believe sanctions and coercion will help resolve the nuclear issue. Even if the American fears about Iran's intentions are true —and there is no evidence to suggest those are justified — there is ample room for diplomacy. Instead of offering peace while threatening sanctions, President Obama should learn to unclench his fist.

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