In his inaugural speech in January 2009, US president Barack Obama promised a new beginning in foreign policy towards Iran, saying “we will extend a hand if you are willing to un-clench your fist”. He didn’t actually mention Iran by name then, but everyone knew he was saying that the Bush administration’s confrontational approach to the Islamic Republic was being replaced by a more reasonable policy based on mutual dialogue.
Well, we better return to examine everything else promised in that address – about “decent jobs and affordable healthcare” and “America being a friend to each nation and to every man, woman and child” – because the 44th president is now shown to be a liar.
This week, Obama’s fine words were put to the test when, on 17 May, Iran announced a joint declaration with Turkey and Brazil on a nuclear fuel swap deal that, in the words of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdorgan, provides a unique opportunity to resolve the long-running dispute between the US and its western allies and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme.
"There is a unique chance before us and I believe that we should take this chance," said Erdogan following the signed accord, which was also brokered in Tehran by Brazilian president Lula da Silva.
"I urge the international community to support this final declaration, which is going to have a very positive impact on the establishment of world peace in the future," added Erdogan.
But less than 24 hours after the nuclear fuel swap plan – which was hailed as a positive development by diverse opinion, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon, China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi and even French president Nicolas Sarkozy – the Obama administration moved swiftly to sabotage the deal.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced on 18 May that a draft document for a fourth round of sanctions drawn up by the US had been agreed by all five permanent members of the UN security council (after weeks of arm-twisting on China, it has to be said  ). The proposed sanctions will have “more teeth” than the previous three rounds, and are aimed at hitting Iran’s international finances and trade.
So much for Obama’s promise of extending a hand to what is clearly a significant bid by Iran to build confidence and trust. More like extending a punch in the face.