The Obama administration faces a dilemma over how to respond to Iran's disputed election. Analysts say that strong criticism could backfire but a muted response leaves an impression of weakness.
Obama has to be like Nixon, the former U.S. president-he has to figure out how to do an interest-driven deal between Iran and the U.S., said Steve Clemons at the New American Institute.
You can't pick and choose the leadership of your rival in these negotiations, Clemons said. Obama needs to do a deal with the grossest political leaders in Iran, he said.
The hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected over ex-prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi last week. Several analysts said on Monday the White House was in a no-win situation but the best option was to stand back rather inject U.S. views into the Iranian political debate.
The U.S. ability to do harm in Iranian politics is much greater than doing good, said Middle East expert Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's opponent in last year's U.S. presidential election, called the reelection of Ahmadinejad corrupt and urged the United States to speak out strongly.
Representative Mike Pence, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, criticized Obama for not speaking more forcefully.
But Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution said: The only option is to sit back and let them play it out, she said. I think that concern being expressed is perfectly appropriate but you don't want Washington on its high horse.
“The Iranian election results are a slap in the face of those who believed that Iran was built for real dialogue with the free world and would halt its nuclear program,” said Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom.
The disputed election and subsequent violence has firmed the resolve of opponents of Obama's outreach policy.
An Iran in which the government is seen to be illegitimate will be more difficult to engage with, said former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel.