"The idea is that the president does with Iran what [President Richard] Nixon did with China — a reconciliation and dialogue that would recognize Teheran as the leader of the region," a source familiar with the debate said, according to the report.
The sources said opponents of the proposed initiative toward Iran included senior officials in the National Security Council as well as the Defense Department and State Department. They argued that Iran, which
refused to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, has not demonstrated any willingness to halt such objectionable programs as uranium enrichment and long-range ballistic missile development.
At this point however, many of Obama's closest aides were said to support a U.S. reconciliation with Iran that would allow the Middle East regime to continue with a civilian nuclear program.
The sources cited such administration advisers as Valerie Jarret, Samantha Power and U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice, who want a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan to pave the way for a rapprochement with Teheran.
The sources said the president's wife, Michelle, has also endorsed the reconciliation proposal. They said proponents have argued that this was Obama's only option to achieve a breakthrough in U.S. foreign policy before the 2012 elections.
"There is a huge debate in the White House on this," one source said.
The sources said the White House has been alarmed by the failure to raise funds for Obama's re-election campaign. They said Jewish members of the Democratic Party, once deemed the biggest supporters of Obama, were donating at a rate of no more than eight percent of that in 2008.
A political consultant involved in White House fundraising efforts said Obama's foreign policy could veer sharply from the status quo if he becomes convinced that he would lose in 2012. The consultant said an increasing number of Democratic Party leaders were considering asking the president not to run.
"Obama has both severe political and legal problems in winning a second term," said the consultant, who, like the others interviewed, did not want to be named.
"If he feels he will lose anyway, Obama will follow a foreign and maybe even domestic policy that will be very controversial," the consultant said.
"The idea is to show the president as a peacemaker who was stopped by the Republicans and other opponents in Congress."