Allowing Iran to continue uranium enrichment during the first phases of negotiations would have President Bush in a flutter. The former president stood his ground on issues pertaining to talks with Iran, demanding they stop their nuclear program before negotiations could take place. By accepting Iran’s continued enrichment practices for a bit during the talks, President Obama is taking another step towards separating himself from the former president’s strict, all-or-nothing, no compromise, hard-line, take no prisoners approach to foreign relations and diplomacy.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged his willingness to consider the proposal by Obama to open direct talks regarding the Iranian nuclear program. This is seemingly a step forward in making progress in the Iran issue, but some see the move as more symbolic than anything else. Speaking with MSNBC, former Chairman of the DNC Howard Dean sees the talks as a step towards capturing “the hearts and minds of moderate members of the worldwide Muslim community.” Dean criticized the former administration’s rhetoric about “Muslims and axes of evil” and saw the true value of these talks in forging a new relationship with the global Muslim community.

Dean agreed with President of the Council of Foreign Relations Richard Haass that these talks will not have a significant impact on the Iranians’ nuclear program. It has been clear from the start that the program will go on whether we talk or not. Haass referenced the Cold War days when people would state, “When we talk, they build. When we didn’t talk, they built.” Haass believes that from an Iranian perspective, it makes them “look reasonable”. It may get the global community off their back for a little while, allowing them to continue uranium enrichment and to develop their nuclear program.

It is not yet crystal clear what the Iranians plan to do as a fully functional nuclear state. The Iranian government has claimed that the program is peaceful in nature and they are not working towards building a nuclear warhead. For those who want to see the United States take the hardnosed, my way or the highway approach the Bush administration adopted, tell them: show me progress. Show me some progress in the matter or show me some benefit that approach brings. The Muslim community quickly fell out of love with the United States (if they were ever ‘in-love’) despite the former administration’s insistence that they were winning hearts and minds in Iraq and around the Middle East. When President Bush claimed certain nations to be part of an axis of evil and spouting off remarks of a similar nature, he put the US in the doghouse with the Muslim community. You do not poke an angry dog with a stick. He only gets madder.

Time will tell whether Obama’s approach turns out to be a progressive step in the right direction. A complete halt to the Iranian nuclear program is unlikely, but hopefully some progress will be made in relations with the Islamic republic. Trust must be established before any real progress can develop with the Muslim community around the world.

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