Changing course [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
Just as in the past, whether the next round of talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, due to be held in Baghdad on 23 May, can be fruitful lies in the United States and Iran finding common ground.
In fact, although Saturday's talks in Istanbul finished on a positive note, with Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, describing them as "very successful" and a White House spokesperson praising Iran's "positive attitude", achieving a permanent and peaceful solution will be difficult, as the US and Iran disagree over the core issue of whether Iran should develop its own uranium enrichment capacity.
Prior to Saturday's talks, the Obama administration had emphasized that negotiations between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran had not met expectations. It said Iran had not cooperated with the agency on key issues such as clarifying suspect nuclear items and permitting on-site inspections of nuclear facilities. If Iran does not change its attitude, even if there are further negotiations between Iran and "Five plus One" countries - the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany - it will be hard to make substantial progress.
The Obama administration wants to settle the Iranian nuclear issue before the US presidential elections in November. But at the moment it faces a challenge trying to coordinate policy goals with the Israeli government, with which it already has differences over the establishing of Jewish settlements in Israeli occupied territories.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the US in March, Obama said that the US will do everything it can to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons because it doesn't serve the US and Israeli's security interests. But he also said there is still the possibility of solving the issue through diplomacy. This was widely interpreted as Obama trying to restrain Israel from launching military strikes against Iran.
It is generally believed that Israel will not be able to launch a successful military attack on Iran without the US' support, but the Israeli government has declared several times that it will launch military attack on Iran before the US presidential election in November.
During his visit, Netanyahu also declared that Israel would not make a commitment to inform the Obama administration before taking military action against Iran.
In fact, the "red line" that would trigger a military attack on Iran is quite different for the US and Israel. For the US it would be Iran's decision to make nuclear weapons, while for Israel it is Iran's capability to make nuclear weapons.
But it is generally believed that Israeli air strikes would only delay Iran's nuclear program rather than completely destroy its capacity to develop nuclear weapons, and that they would give Iran's leaders the pretext to publicly commit to making nuclear weapons. This is not what Obama administration wants.
Another challenge the administration faces is controlling rising oil prices.
Since late 2011, the Obama administration has urged the major countries importing oil from Iran, to stop or reduce these imports. EU countries, South Korea, and Japan soon followed the US' bidding. This has hit Iran's economy, as oil exports, which are regarded as its economic lifeline, have declined sharply. But it has also led to rising international oil prices.
The Obama administration believes that with Iran's domestic commodity prices already rising and its currency devaluing, the Iranian people will become more and more dissatisfied with the government, forcing its leaders to abandon the country's nuclear program.
Moreover, the US is still trying to disentangle itself from Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and whether the Obama administration is willing to commit the US to a new conflict in the Middle East is a big decision.
It is thought that if the US did launch a military attack on Iran together with Israel, it would win wide political support and boost Obama's re-election chances. But this support would be temporary, and if Obama was elected for a second term his administration would be left with the consequences.
So there may still be hopes of peace in the Persian Gulf, as Obama has repeatedly held out olive branches to Iran since he took office, and Iran's top leader has praised Obama for restraining Israel.
The author is a senior research fellow of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.