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Obama's Trap In Tehran

In Iran, the Obama administration is in a trap at least partially of its own creation. This is the essence of a very smart full-page piece by Daniel Dombey in Friday's Financial Times. As the president and Dennis Ross, his special (not yet) envoy to the ayatollahs, plus Mrs. Clinton, try to set the paradigms of the American re-encounter with Tehran, Iran's "nuclear programme is gathering pace all the while." Dombey says we simply don't know just how far Dr. A'jad's scientists and technicians have progressed with their nuclear adventure. But just about everyone agrees that they have gone far enough, however far that it is.

Of course, Israel is anxious that, despite America's strict stated limits on Iran's atomic capabilities, Washington may settle for Tehran having much more. This will also greatly upset the Sunni Arab royals, especially Saudi Arabia but the other oil principalities as well. As serious, certainly, are the tremendous anxieties of the Egyptian state during the last week over Hezbollah's clear and multi-faceted challenge to Cairo's sovereignty and legitimacy, especially in the Sinai. It could not have been clearer that the Lebanese terror group was the chosen arm of Tehran in this adventure...or more threatening. So it is not only Jerusalem that is nervous about American flexibility.  It is also Egypt and other "Arab countries (that) recoil at the idea of (Iran) gaining a greater say in regional affairs." Or, as the president puts it, Iran claiming its "rightful place in the community of nations." What community? OK, that's another matter.

In the meantime, the present administration is carrying on the work of the previous one in trade and banking restrictions on Iran and its financial partners. In fact, the person now in charge at Treasury, Stuart Levey (another one of my really brilliant students), the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, help just that position under George Bush. Levey's work is described on the same FT page as the big Dombey report.