But while American and Iranian leaders were busy sending diplomatic signals to each other; the people of Iran started the new year by signaling something else. They formed a new grassroots movement. Ma Hastim or "We Do Exist," began to spread in small cells across the country and make its voice heard.
Despite a heavy security presence, supposedly to protect the United Arab Emirates embassy, thousands of people showed up in Teheran. A much larger demonstration took place in Tabriz with nearly 100,000 demonstrators. The proposed slogan of Ma Hastim was coined to show to the UAE officials that Iranian people "do exist" and that they are willing to defend Iran's rights in the Persian Gulf.
Economic downturns are wrenching but cyclical. Nuclear proliferation is more difficult to reverse, creating the permanent prospect of massive miscalculation and tragedy. America's next leader may be known to history as the president who had to deal with Iran.
This topic received glancing attention in the second presidential debate. Barack Obama called a nuclear Iran "unacceptable." John McCain said it would raise the prospect of "a second Holocaust." But neither man seriously confronted the choices ahead.
In exchange for opening their nuclear plants to inspection, the Iranians have been offered immunity from sanctions, membership in the World Trade Organization, and an energy partnership with Europe to modernize Iran's oil industry. In addition, Iran would have received a fully fueled nuclear reactor to service the country's agricultural and medical needs. It would have been welcomed into a Persian Gulf security forum and enlisted in efforts to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.
The House legislation, approved on a voice vote, would also authorize state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension funds and investments in companies that have invested more than $20 million in Iran's oil industry.
The measure takes aspects of several measures passed overwhelmingly in the House last year but which did not advance in the Senate and met opposition from the administration. The chances of the Senate taking up the issue in the last few hours of this session are uncertain.