Relations between the United States and Iran have been in the spotlight since Washington last year unilaterally pulled out of a landmark 2015 international agreement that placed limits on Teheran's nuclear activities in exchange for trade, investment and sanctions relief. Since rejecting the deal, which he believed was to Iran's advantage, US President Donald Trump has reimposed sanctions to force Teheran to accept stricter limits on its nuclear activity, curb its ballistic missile programme and end its support for proxy forces around the Middle East. The downward spiral in US-Iranian relations that followed looked relentless, until a surprise development last week when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit at French President Emmanuel Macron's invitation. While there was no meeting with Mr Trump, who was also there, the opportunity was tantalisingly close. Optimists also point out that Mr Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have indicated that a meeting is possible under the right circumstances.
The threat of nuclear proliferation weighs heaving on the minds of those who justify America's muscular stance on Iran. But an equal danger lies in pushing Iran into defiance - as expressed in reducing its compliance with the terms of the deal - and as a way of protesting against Washington's actions. Policy hawks in the US and Iran may well score points with their domestic constituencies in this contest of wills. But it is not a sensible way of dealing with a conflict which impinges on and impacts security in the Middle East and the oil-producing region's ties with the rest of the world.