Iran's Presidential election could prove to be instrumental in what President Obama is trying to do, specifically in his words "unclench the fist" of radical Islam – and the election might see a more reformist, less militant, President – who would be more willing to negotiate diplomacy with the West.
Because the Presidency in Iran plays a back seat role to the religious cleric or the Supreme Leader – currently the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the return to the Presidency for Mohammad Khatami – who served two terms from 1997 to 2005 – could provide a welcome reformist tone and harkens back to a day when the Iranian regime did, in fact, suspend its uranium enrichment nuclear program. The election might allow President Obama to continue with what has been reported to be doing with back channel diplomatic efforts with Iran.
There will be opportunities before the campaign gets under way for the Obama Administration to be in places where sideline discussion could – but are unlikely – to take place, such as next week's Munich Security meeting where both Vice President Jose Biden and Iran's parliament speaker and nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will be present.
Dialogue with Iran is tricky and has downsides -- but most recently has been supported by the International Atomic agency chief, Mohammad el Baradei who is calling for a renewed dialogue with Iran, after several rounds of U.S.- supported U.N. Security Council Resolutions have failed to freeze Iran's nuclear program.
The Presidential election in June may well present a serious choice to the Iranian people between the current radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is calling for another Holocaust denial conference, and one of several reformist candidates and it is important to recall that another reform candidate – former President Hashemi Rafsanjani – presented serious opposition to Ahmadinejad during the last election in 2005.
How the Obama Administration navigates negotiations with Iran will be tempered by what are sure to be mixed messages, but the Presidential elections are sure to present an opportunity to the Iranian people to shift the course of the dialogue.