Today's NYT reports that, in addition to preparing for a diplomatic approach, the Obama administration also wants to tighten economic sanctions against Iran. This would be consistent with Dennis Ross' long-stated belief that the U.S. needs more "leverage" if it is to negotiate effectively with Tehran. Here's Ross talking to Time in mid-2007:

We shouldn't be afraid to engage. I don't think that talking is a form of surrender. I have 12 rules in [his book, Statecraft] for how to negotiate. One of the key things is making certain that you have more leverage. You don't want to be in a position where you need the other side more than they need you.

Iran's vulnerabilities are economic. The sanctions that have been adopted at the U.N. are part of what I call a slow-motion approach to diplomacy, and here again you have a mismatch between objectives and means. We have slow-motion diplomacy matched against their fast-paced nuclear development. So, we have to ratchet up the economic pressures on the Iranians. And the Europeans, who are desperate for us to talk directly to Iran, hold the key. I would offer to join the Europeans in direct talks with Iran, but only if the Europeans are prepared to cut off their economic lifeline to Iran. If Iran thinks it is actually going to be cut off economically, which has not been the case in the sanctions so far, then you have a chance to change their behavior.

This should be heartening to conservative critics who accuse the Obama team of approaching negotiations with wide-eyed naivete.

P.S. I should note that while Ross' appointment--reportedly as the administration's point man on Iran--hasn't yet been announced, he was a campaign advisor to Obama and has already been spotted at the State Department, so it seems reasonable to presume his fingerprints on a story/policy like this.

--Michael Crowley