Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, said Rouhani shares with Obama a need to prove to a domestic audience that diplomacy can produce concrete results.
"If he can't show that his diplomatic approach will pay more dividends for Iran that Ahmadinejad's theatrics, then it's back to the conservatives being in the driver's seat. And the flexibility that Rouhani currently has will be lost," Parsi said.
As Rouhani considers re-engaging with the U.S., he's closely watching diplomatic developments in Syria, an Iranian ally.
A chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August brought the U.S. to the brink of a military strike. But an idea floated by Secretary of State John Kerry turned into a last-minute overture from Russia — another backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad — and resulted in a deal to turn Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles over to the international community.
The breakthrough was particularly unexpected given that Russia has thwarted U.S. efforts to punish Assad through the U.N. Security Council. When Obama was on the verge of launching a strike against Assad's regime, he said the U.N. had an "incapacity" to address Syria's violation of international agreements banning the deployment of deadly gases.
Now the U.S. once again sees a role for the Security Council. The U.S. wants the panel to approve a resolution making the U.S.-Russian agreement legally binding in a way that is verifiable and enforceable. But a key obstacle remains, given U.S. and Russian disagreement over whether to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
Chapter 7 deals with threats to international peace and security and has provisions for enforcement by military or nonmilitary means, such as sanctions. Russia is sure to veto a resolution that includes a mandate for military action.