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In his attempt to find a new U.S. policy toward Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to engage the nation through direct dialogue, a move that Iran appears to have responded to rather positively. The Iraq war provided Iran with an opportunity to increase its influence on Arab nations and Mr. Obama apparently thinks that a U.S. engagement with Iran could help stabilize the Middle East situation.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. But the diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States remain severed. The United Nations have imposed sanctions on Iran three times since 2006 over its nuclear development program. Steep drops in oil prices have also severely hit the Iranian economy.

Mr. Obama hopes to break the deadlock in U.S.-Iran relations, a legacy of the George W. Bush administration’s hostile policy toward Iran. In his first news conference after his inauguration, he said “My expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face to face.” He even said that there is the possibility of a “relationship of mutual respect and progress” with Iran. In response, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran is ready for talks with the U.S. “in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect.”

For an improvement of U.S.-Iran relations, however, there are still many obstacles to overcome. The U.S. cannot accept a nuclear-armed Iran or its involvement in supplying funds and weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran, on its part, demands an apology from the U.S. for its support of Iraq’s Hussein administration in the Iran-Iraq War and its interference in Iran’s politics before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The interests of the U.S. and Iran appear to overlap in some areas, though. The U.S. is battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran, a Shiite state, is not on good terms with the Sunni Taliban either. If Washington and Tehran can identify areas in which they can cooperate, the path to normalization of ties may become less arduous.

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