What's next after the Obama administration's opening to Cuba? Why, an embassy in Tehran, of course.
On Aug. 14, in a ceremony replete with pomp and circumstance, Secretary of State John Kerry presided over the formal re-opening of the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba. The occasion marked the culmination of nearly two years of quiet diplomacy between the White House and the Castro regime.
The initiative had been launched following Kerry's fall 2013 address before the Organization of the American States, in which he had announced with great fanfare that the "era of the Monroe Doctrine is over."
That pronouncement — intended to reassure regional powers that America's sometimes-heavyhanded approach to countries south of our border was a thing of the past — touched off a series of negotiations with Havana, during which the Obama administration formally abandoned more than half a century of established US policy toward the island nation in favor of a diplomatic opening.
Obama's diplomacy with Cuba has been roundly condemned by human-rights dissidents and democracy activists alike as a whitewashing of the country's brutal Communist rule.
But, in the eyes of the White House, it's an unreserved success. Kerry himself has said as much, waxing poetic during his Havana visit that, thanks to the negotiations, the United States and Cuba had turned a historic corner and were no longer "enemies or rivals, but neighbors" who "wish each other well."
As such, it's virtually guaranteed to not be an isolated occurrence. Having managed to successfully "reset" relations with Havana, the White House will now be on the hunt for additional diplomatic victories. And there's no better candidate for a similar olive branch than the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Obama has hinted as much. In December, NPR asked the president, "Is there any scenario under which you can envision, in your final two years, opening a US embassy in Tehran?"
His response: "I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps. . . .
If Iran recognizes that it is in its own interests, having already said that they're actually not interested in developing a nuclear weapon, to go ahead and prove that to the world, so that over time as it's verified, sanctions are removed, their economy begins to grow, they're reintegrated into the international community — if we can take that big first step, then my hope would be that that would serve as the basis for us trying to improve relations over time."
Normalizing ties with Tehran, after all, has long been a key goal of this administration. From his time as a candidate, President Obama consistently championed the idea of "engagement" with the Islamic Republic, and of "extending a hand" to Iran's ayatollahs as a way of bringing them in from the diplomatic cold.
The recent conclusion of a deal between the P5+1 powers and Iran over the latter's nuclear program has now provided the White House with an excuse to do just that.
Here's why: Pursuant to the bylaws of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the inspection teams that will be tasked with monitoring Iran's nuclear program must be staffed by nationals of countries that have full diplomatic relations with Iran.
The United States currently is not one of those nations, and therefore no Americans can be directly involved in the process of inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities.
Washington, in other words, will need to rely on the international community to properly oversee Iran's nuclear program. It can't do so itself. That is, unless the administration establishes a formal US presence within the Islamic Republic.
So watch for Team Obama to follow up the christening of its embassy in Havana with a push for a similar diplomatic foothold within the Islamic Republic, using the convenient argument that a reestablishment of diplomatic ties is essential to better track and monitor Iran's nuclear effort.
If and when it does, it will confirm what many observers have already figured out: that the new nuclear deal which represents the signature initiative of Obama's second term isn't about the Islamic Republic's nuclear program at all. It is, rather, intended as a vehicle for a broader "reset" of America's relations with one of the world's most dangerous regimes.