Jonathan Chait has an excellent piece in TNR, pointing out that Obama's foreign policy follows the same pattern as his domestic politics. He treats Iran the same way he treats the Republican Party. Reach out to your opponent - draw off a few supporters from his coalition - and either force him to come to the table or force him to isolate himself.
Chait picks up on a theme frequently alluded to around these parts: that those who dismiss Obama as an airy-fairy idealist, and those who dismiss him as a ruthless cynic, are both wrong. What makes him distinctive is his synthesis of these two approaches. It's tough being his opponent. If you want to join him and 'believe', great - if you don't, bad news for you, sucka. Can't say you weren't asked. Here's Chait:
(B)y defusing the complaint among Islamists that the United States disrespects their religion, Obama can more easily force the Iranian leadership to negotiate on the terms of its stated goals. This is actually "a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers," as American Prospect editor Mark Schmitt wrote in 2007. "One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in," Schmitt explained, "treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem."
This apparent paradox is one reason Obama's political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it's all the same thing. Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.