December 5, 2007


Time to Talk to Iran (Robert Kagan, December 5, 2007, Washington Post)

Some argue that you can't talk to a country while seeking political change within it. This is nonsense. The United States simultaneously contained the Soviet Union, negotiated with the Soviet Union and pressed for political change in the Soviet Union -- supporting dissidents, communicating directly to the Russian people through radio and other media, and holding the Soviet government to account under such international human rights agreements as the Helsinki Accords. There's no reason the United States cannot talk to Iran while beefing up containment in the region and pressing for change within Iran.

As for what's in it for Iran: If Tehran complies with its nuclear obligations; ceases its support for terrorist violence; and treats its people with justice, humanity and liberalism, it will be welcomed into the international community, with all the enormous economic, political and security benefits this brings. That offer has always been on the table, and the United States gives away nothing by making it explicit.

Beginning talks today does not limit American options in the future. If the Iranians stonewall or refuse to talk -- a distinct possibility -- they will establish a record of intransigence that can be used against them now and in the critical years to come. It's possible the American offer itself could open fissures in Iran. In any case, it is hard to see what other policy options are available. This is the hand that has been dealt. The Bush administration needs to be smart and creative enough to play it well.

Done smartly, the talks would contribute to the regime change. W ought to seek to speak directly to Rafsanjani, who represents Ayatollah Khamenei, thereby undercutting Ahmedinejad. Thus the very act of sitting down to talk would serve our ends regardless of the content of said talks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2007 2:20 PM
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