After more than three decades of tension and distrust, a new President and his charm offensive have caused hopes for better relations. But skepticism remains… about what Iran’s intentions are – and how other actors like Syria and Israel could play a role.
Bill Martel, professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. His most recent book is called "Victory in War"
Iran's suspect nuclear program will again be in the spotlight this weekend when negotiators from Iran and six international powers meet in Istanbul.
Iran was reluctant to have Turkey host the meeting, reflecting Iran's growing unhappiness with Turkish foreign policy moves, especially its call for regime change in Syria, Iran's key ally in the Arab world.
Analyst and columnist Yavuz Baydar says Turkey has stuck its neck out for Iran in the past, defending what it calls Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program and even voting against U.N. sanctions on Iran two years ago.
For the first time in more than a year, diplomats from Iran will meet with representatives from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany.
The meeting, to be held in Istanbul this weekend, will focus on Iran's controversial nuclear program.
When similar talks have taken place in the past, Iranian officials tended to use the sessions to complain about the ways the U.S. and the West have treated Iran badly, and little actual negotiating got done.
Late last week, an investigative report from Reuters’ Enterprise Team uncovered the details of a big money contract between the Chinese telecommunications equipment company ZTE and the Telecommunication Company of Iran that included technology that can be used to conduct surveillance and crack down on dissidents. The details of the deal revealed surprising end-runs being made by Iran around global sanctions.
In recent weeks and days, the divisions over how to deal with Iran and its nuclear program have sharpened. The only undisputed fact is that Iran is developing a nuclear energy program, but after that things get murky.
Israel and some European countries believe Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapons program, but U.S. intelligence agencies disagree. Israel argues that a nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat, and there's much speculation in the media about a possible Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites.
In several hours of talks, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to have different timelines and red lines on the issue of Iran's nuclear program: Obama said he prefers diplomacy and pressure; the Israeli leader made clear his country reserves the right to attack pre-emptively, saying Israel must remain master of its fate.
The troubled relationship between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency doesn't appear to be getting any better.
Back in February, senior agency delegations traveled twice to Iran to clarify its concerns about possible nuclear weapons work.
And on Monday, the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation that would allow the agency to give credible assurances that Iran's nuclear work is entirely peaceful.
Iran holds parliamentary elections on Friday, the first since the disputed, and many believe fraudulent, presidential election in 2009.
But unlike that presidential poll, candidates seeking to take on the country's conservative rulers will not be taking part Friday; they are mostly under house arrest or have been in prison for years now.
The focus will be on which conservatives end up on top and how many votes are cast.
Oil prices have jumped sharply in the past two weeks, and the price of gasoline is also moving up. Across the country, a gallon of regular costs nearly $3.60 on average, with some areas facing $4 gas. That's causing sticker shock at the pump, and concern that rising prices could derail the economic recovery.
According to Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, gas prices are up because of the West's current confrontation with Iran and sanctions over that country's nuclear program.
It was one of the more surreal photo ops this week: Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, live on Iranian TV, visiting a nuclear reactor. Ahmadinejad trumpeted his country's nuclear progress, but denied, once again, that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
In Washington, officials weren't buying it.
They rushed to repeat the official U.S. line — a line President Obama himself is fond of delivering.
"Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal," he said.
The dispute over Iran's nuclear program has again rocked oil markets. And Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, which is just 34 miles wide yet serves as the passageway for 20 percent of the world's oil.
This is not a new drama. In fact, it was a recurring issue in the 1980s. Still, there's been relatively little activity among Gulf oil producers to find alternative routes to get their oil to market.