When Iran elected a moderate cleric to succeed the fiery Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the country's president last month, President Obama sought to encourage what some saw as an important political shift by calling for improved US-Iran relations.
Mr. Obama said the election of Hassan Rohani opened the way to "a more serious, substantive" relationship with Iran – interpreted widely as the president's hope that the United States and Iran might add bilateral negotiations to international talks on Iran's nuclear program.
But now that Mr. Rohani is about to take office as Iran's president, some in Congress want to send a different signal to Tehran by approving a new round of sanctions aimed at further stifling the Iranian economy. Rohani is set to be inaugurated Sunday.
For others, however, now is precisely the time – as Iran anticipates a return to talks on its nuclear program with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany – to let Iran know that the US and the West are not going to let their guard down.
"The [Obama] administration must go into the next round of negotiations with significant, re-enhanced leverage," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a recent conversation with reporters.
Advocates of tough new sanctions scoff at the notion that Rohani is a harbinger of a new "moderation" among Iran's leadership – or that he (or the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) has any intention of dialing back on Iran's nuclear program. Western powers worry that the program is aimed not at delivering civilian nuclear energy, as Iran claims, but at building a nuclear weapon.