The past ten days or so have been a busy period for news on the future of US-Iranian relations.  Here’s a brief summary of what’s been happening:

The New York Times reported on March 2nd that President Obama has sent a letter to Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.  This letter offered the possibility of an exchange: in return for Russia’s help in pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the United States will not continue to pursue its missile defense system in Eastern Europe.  American officials have since clarified that this letter was not offering a deal as much as it was explaining that the U.S.’s need for missile defense would be decreased by a diminished chance of a nuclear Iran.

The letter was a subject of discussion in Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, March 6th.  Russian officials are apparently open to cooperation and some have even suggested that Russia’s delayed delivery of the long-range S-300 missiles that it has sold to Iran are a gesture of goodwill toward the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Clinton has also recently suggested that Iranian officials will be invited to a conference on Afghanistan that will be taking place at the end of this month.  This would be the first face-to-face meeting of American and Iranian officials since Obama’s election.  Iran has not yet stated whether or not it will be attending the United States and Iran share many common interests in Afghanistan and there is hope that these common interests could be the starting point for a constructive dialogue.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has also offered to work to ease the tension between the U.S. and Iran.  Babacan met with Secretary Clinton on Saturday, March 7th and will be attending an Economic Cooperation Organization meeting in Tehran later this week.  Turkey will not be acting as a mediator, as it recently did for Israel and Syria, but will rather be working to promote a “better understanding” between the two countries, according to Babacan.

The Obama administration has also finally announced the appointment of Dennis Ross as “Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia”, a position that will include advising on dealings with Iran.  Many, myself included, have expressed varying degrees of doubt about whether or not Ross is the right person for the job.  Omid Memarian of the Huffington Post, however, has an interesting take in the appointment.  He notes, “Clearly, the appointment of Dennis Ross has more of a domestic consumption for the administration than an actual affect on what Obama’s approach towards Iran” and observes that two other officials, William Burns and Lee Hamilton, will likely play roles any Iran policy.

The Obama administration is clearly making relations with Iran one of its top priorities.  Those hoping for a Nixon-China-style détente will probably be disappointed, but it is encouraging to see that the administration is using a variety of diplomatic methods to tackle this important issue.

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