J.'s concern was as personal as it was political. She was born in Iran. Her family fled during the revolution, I think, and she lived most of her young life in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But Iran is her birthplace, her original home, and she seems (sometimes, at least) to think of herself as Persian first, and everything else that she is subordinately.
I didn't know how to answer J.'s question, and neither did David, who is usually better equipped to speak on such matters than I. Relations with Iran looked bad then, and they have only gotten worse in recent weeks.
The U.N. is increasingly concerned with Iran's interest in obtaining the means to manufacture weapons-grade enriched uranium. Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be a raving madman who seems hell-bent, Kim Jong-Il style, on demonstrating his independence and strength by defying, insulting, and provoking other world powers, especially the U.S.
While I see the hypocrisy in efforts by the world's nuclear club to keep the club's doors closed to newcomers, it is hard to see how diplomacy can have any effect at all with Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric echoes that of those who in the West are commonly called terrorists, and who in his speeches cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as evidence of the world-wide Jewish conspiracy he perceives. One cannot imagine Security Council resolutions having any more sway on this man than they had on Saddam Hussein.
Nevertheless, the American folly in Iraq has left the armed forces too depleted to launch a similar attack on Iran. Ahmadinejad surely knows this, and spews his rhetoric secure in the belief that the U.S. and its allies will hesitate to take on another Iraq-style mission. But the President and his administration aren't going to let Ahmadinejad thumb his nose at them with impunity for long. They let Kim Jong-Il do so for fear of stepping on China's toes, but there is no such buffer for Iran.
And so, as ever, there is nothing but fear and uncertainty for the future in the Middle East. Israel is more uncertain than ever, while Sharon languishes on life support; Palestine is led by Hamas; Iraq is God-knows-what; Iran is a war waiting to happen. And I still don't know what to say to J., except to apologize for being an American, for the contributions that my country's missteps have made to this terrifying mess.