IRAN DOESN’T WANT TO TAKE ‘YES’ FOR AN ANSWER…. For years, Iranian leaders have gotten quite a bit of political mileage out of animosity towards the United States. Iran would call for direct, unconditional talks; the United States would refuse; and Iran would use the tensions as an excuse to repress its population.

Now, however, it appears Iran has an entirely new problem. A popular new U.S. president has already indicated that he wants to give Iran the very talks the country has asked for. In a very interesting front-page piece, the Washington Post notes that Obama’s position on diplomacy has suddenly become a political problem for Iran’s leadership.

Since 2006, Iran’s leaders have called for direct, unconditional talks with the United States to resolve international concerns over their nuclear program. But as an American administration open to such negotiations prepares to take power, Iran’s political and military leaders are sounding suddenly wary of President-elect Barack Obama.

“People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous,” Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency. […]

For Iran’s leaders, the only state of affairs worse than poor relations with the United States may be improved relations. The Shiite Muslim clerics who rule the country came to power after ousting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S.-backed autocrat, in their 1979 Islamic revolution. Opposition to the United States, long vilified as the “great Satan” here in Friday sermons, remains one of the main pillars of Iranian politics.

It often goes unsaid but Iranian leaders want, and apparently need, tensions with the U.S. to justify their existence. The Bush administration has made conditions easier for Iran, not harder.

As Spencer Ackerman noted, Obama’s willingness to engage Iran diplomatically puts the country’s leadership in a “serious bind.” Ackerman explained, if you’re an Iranian leader, “All of a sudden, you’re deprived of a method of demagoguery that’s aided your regime for a generation. And if you refuse to negotiate, you’ve just undermined everything you told the international community you wanted, and now appear unreasonable, erratic, and unattractive to foreign capitals. Amazing how the prospects for peace are more destabilizing to the Iranian establishment than any inevitably-counterproductive-and-destructive bombing campaign or war of internal subterfuge.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.