Barack Obama's approach to Iran and Syria won plaudits yesterday from James Baker, the former US secretary of state who served in two Republican administrations. Days after Syrian and Iranian leaders met in Damascus and suggested conflict with the US was inevitable, Mr Baker said the White House had taken the right track by continuing to talk to Iran. "If harsh rhetoric means you don't talk to people, then we shouldn't have been meeting with the Soviet Union for 40 years during the Cold War," he said on a visit to Abu Dhabi. "But you do more than talk, that's what the current administration in my view is doing."
Mr Baker, who served under both George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan, implicitly criticised Mr Obama's Republican critics who have said that the decision to negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions had encouraged Iran's nuclear programme and legitimised the results of last summer's disputed election. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, met with Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president, and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, last weekend, and harshly criticised the US and Israel, according to media reports. He predicted war between Iran and the US-Israeli alliance would start by this summer.