A fist still clenched
So you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Obama promised to extend his hand if Iran would unclench its fist, but will the U.S. even get Iran to the bargaining table in the first place? Low-level sidelines chats reportedly took place between Iranian and U.S. envoys at an international conference on Afghanistan, but Iran quickly denied any negotiation was in the works. In fact, most of the Islamic Republic's response to the U.S. has been in the form of challenging Obama to prove that he was a "change" from the Bush administration. Ahmadinejad has even challenged Obama to debate multiple times.
Throwing a wrench in the diplomatic efforts has been the June 12, 2009, presidential election in Iran, which produced an unreasonably lopsided result in favor of Ahmadinejad shortly after polls closed. Supporters of reformist candidate Mir-Hossin Mousavi poured into the streets in protest as Washington declined to cast judgment on the validity of the results. As Tehran violently cracked down on protesters, Obama came under increasing pressure at home and abroad to more forcefully denounce the bloodshed. After Obama said he was "appalled and outraged" by the events, Ahmadinejad angrily said any prospect of talks had been jeopardized and called on Obama to "avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it."
Why they aren't budging
Iran's stubbornness against discussing its nuclear program, though, has less to do with who's actually in the White House. The Islamic Republic has built their nuclear capability into a fixture of national pride; even domestic reformists like Mousavi express an unwavering commitment to Iran's right to a nuclear program. It's also a way of exerting the country as a regional power and as a leader of the Muslim world -- another aspect that worries Saudi Arabia to the point that it has expressed concern to Washington about the proposed talks.
Another reason for the back-and-forth jabs between Iran and other nations could be stonewalling, if indeed they are developing a nuclear weapons programs. And this isn't lost on leaders who have proposed time limits to let talks with Iran work. These have ranged from a proposal by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to put a three-month cap on talks, to an announcement after the meeting of Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Obama wanted to give negotiations through the end of the year. After the June presidential election, the bloody protests, and further rhetoric from the hardline regime, though, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced after the G-8 meeting in Italy at the beginning of July that leaders agreed to give Iran until the G-20 summit at the end of September 2009 to respond to overtures. If there was no response to efforts, Sarkozy said, leaders would assess which moves to take next with Iran.