The holiday weekend was not a happy one for US diplomacy in the Middle East. The massacre in the Syrian town of Houla may be touching off a new round of diplomacy, but it also exposed just how unsuccessful the US has been at pushing Assad out of office. Speeches have been made, statements read, notes written, resolution passed: and still the killing goes on. Russia, the country to which the administration has turned for help as its policy dissolved into pious wishes and contemptuously dismissed warnings, is blaming the opposition as well as the government for the latest massacre. Worse, Russia might even be right; the opposition looks less and less beautiful as the war grinds on.But the bigger setback is in the greater crisis: the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programs. Here hopes have been highest for a breakthrough — and here the Obama policies are coming up against some very hard realities. Despite tough sanctions scheduled to get tougher, Iran does not at this point seem willing to make serious concessions on its nuclear program. No inspections, no cessation of activity. Worse, it may have significantly more enriched uranium at its disposal than previously believed. Still worse, the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quotes Israeli officials as saying that, despite frequent Obama administration claims to the contrary, Israel is not satisfied with the way the US is conducting diplomacy with Iran. And this Washington Post story on Iranian involvement in plots to kill US and other diplomats in various places around the world won’t improve the atmosphere.The Iran saga has had many twists and turns and many reversals of fortune so far. A week ago the administration’s plans were looking pretty good, and we should not forget that patient, hardworking diplomacy has made sanctions more effective and cemented a strong international coalition that makes US pressure more effective. Hard work and persistence often bring success even though the difficulties and obstacles sometimes seem insuperable.But even so, this was not a good week for the United States in the Middle East. Let’s hope the next few days bring some better news.