President Obama’s focus on Iran in his State of the Union speech was telling. Of all the international threats the United States faces this year, Iran is the most worrisome. Its radical government has withstood tough sanctions and continues to drive toward a nuclear weapon. Its reclusive and contrary supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is risking confrontation with the United States and Israel in the combustible Middle East.
There are few reasons to be optimistic about where this is heading. Iran is threatening to accelerate its uranium enrichment program by introducing powerful IR-2M centrifuges. Khamenei responded to Washington’s offer of direct US-Iran talks with a defiant no. Russia and China refuse to join the United States and Europe in applying pressure on Iran to negotiate seriously. While Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council will meet in Kazakhstan later this month, Tehran likely won’t negotiate seriously until after its bitterly contested presidential elections in June.