By Guita Aryan, VOA
STATE DEPARTMENT - Resolving Iran's nuclear standoff with the West is one of the major foreign policy challenges facing the second Obama administration. Sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union have hit the Iranian economy hard enough to possibly push Iran toward a diplomatic solution.
There were three high-level meetings between world powers and Iran in 2012. But by year's end, the two sides were not near resolution on Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The West fears Iran is developing a nuclear weapon capability. Iran says its program has peaceful aims.
Having won a second term in the White House, President Barack Obama has warned that he will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran. But he said he wants to resolve the standoff diplomatically.
"There should be a way in which they can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon," said Obama.
Easing sanctions is one of Iran's demands. But the U.S. sanctions are law, and except for limited waivers, they will be difficult for Obama to change.
William Reinsch is a former Commerce Department official who now heads an association promoting open trade.
"He is going to have to go back to Congress and there again, he is going to have to deal with the multiplicity of members of Congress, many of whom have different objectives over the purpose of the sanctions and he may find it much more difficult either to modify or repeal than he might think," said Reinsch.
Amid continued reports of Israeli preparations to attack Iran, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently set 2013 as the deadline for resolution. The United States has asked Israel for patience.
Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold said many retired senior members of the U.S. military think politicians are too quick to advocate the military option.
"There is a lot of concern on this matter that has become an emotional, almost personal issue within members of the political class and without an informed understanding of consequences of military action, we may pay a price that is disproportionate to what we are trying to achieve," he said.
The White House says it is not pursuing regime change in Iran. It says its main goal is to make sure there will not be any military dimension to Iran's nuclear program.
Diplomats from major world powers are expected to soon set a date and venue for another meeting with Iran.
Shaul Bakhash, a history professor at George Mason University, said Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will not compromise without Western concessions.
"Khamenei will not give up enrichment, surrender its fuel stocks enriched to 20 percent level, allow more intrusive inspections and close down the Fordo enrichment facility without concessions from the U.S. that he can present as a great victory for Iran," he said.
Bakhash is not optimistic that the United States can accept such demands, leaving the U.S. and the West in a continued quandary over how to pressure Tehran.
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