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Obama's Style Of Diplomacy Pays Off In Iran Nuclear Deal


For president Obama, today's nuclear deal with Iran is the payoff for years of painstaking diplomacy. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it showcases his willingness to engage with America's longtime enemies, even when that draws criticism from members of his own party.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama spoke today about the two years of intense negotiation leading up to this deal, but actually, it's been on his wish list a lot longer than that. Ever since he came into office, Obama's been reaching out to Iran with public holiday greetings to the Iranian people and clandestine talks with officials in Tehran. Time and again, Obama says, he's tried to show the U.S. is open to engagement.


BARACK OBAMA: Our differences are real, and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change.

HORSLEY: That willingness to negotiate with rogue regimes dates back to Obama's first White House campaign when even fellow Democrats like Hillary Clinton accused him of being naive for saying he'd talk without precondition to leaders of Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Obama did not back down, arguing in his Nobel Prize speech that engagement packs more power than isolation.


OBAMA: No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

HORSLEY: Editor David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy says Obama deserves credit for opening doors to Iran. But Rothkopf, who's criticized the administration over its handling of war-ravaged countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq, says enforcing the deal may take a different set of skills.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: It may well be that the president was precisely the right man to get us this deal but that a different kind of man or woman is going to be required to ensure its success.

HORSLEY: Still, Rothkopf says there's no question 2015 has been the president's most successful year so far in foreign-policy. The Iran deal follows progress on an Asia-Pacific trade pact, climate talks and the normalization of ties with Cuba. Iran, of course, is a much more formidable adversary than Cuba, but Rothkopf says U.S. policy towards both countries had ossified over the decades and was due for a change.

ROTHKOPF: Both of these stand out as examples of what he sees as a better alternative for U.S. foreign policy. And I think, in that respect, he's right.

HORSLEY: Obama says the nuclear deal won't settle the United States' other outstanding disputes with Iran over its human rights record and its meddling in neighboring countries, but former diplomat Hillary Mann Leverett who co-wrote the book "Going to Tehran" says the administration should pursue a broader diplomatic thaw.

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT: We're talking about a country of nearly 80 million people, highly sophisticated, highly educated. They're not going anywhere, and we need to figure out how to deal constructively with that power.

HORSLEY: The White House has said the nuclear deal could be a positive step towards Iran's reintegration with the international community. To be sure, the deal still faces plenty of questions in Washington and Tehran, but Rothkopf says it's unlikely either the U.S. Congress or Iranian hardliners will derail it.

ROTHKOPF: This is the new reality of this relationship for the next 15 years or more, and I think everybody - critics and supporters alike are going to have to recalibrate.

HORSLEY: If so, the deal will stand as a lasting example of the Obama doctrine and the president's embrace of vigorous international diplomacy. Whether that's a legacy to boast about could take a lot longer to judge. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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