U.S. in a foreign policy corner on Iran

Last week, after 16 months of relentless effort, President Obama finally achieved one of his major foreign policy objectives: a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing stronger economic sanctions on Iran.

But it wasn’t much of a victory. The resolution wasn’t unanimous, which diluted its intended message. And the sanctions themselves are modest, watered down to secure support from Russia and China. Even Obama isn’t promising much. “We know that the Iranian government will not change its behavior overnight,” he said in a muted victory statement, “but (the U.N.) vote demonstrates the growing costs that will come with Iranian intransigence.”

If sanctions are unlikely to produce rapid change in Iran, neither has the administration’s other approach: engagement. When Obama entered office, critics mocked his offer to Iran of an outstretched hand as starry-eyed. But he made it clear all along that he didn’t expect engagement to bear instant results. That’s why he opted for a “two-track” policy: both engagement and sanctions.


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