October 20, 2012

BE THE PLAYER, NOT THE PLAYED:

U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks (HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, 10/20/12, NY Times)

There is still a chance the initiative could fall through, even if Mr. Obama is re-elected. Iran has a long history of using the promise of diplomacy to ease international pressure on it. In this case, American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off on the effort. The American understandings have been reached with senior Iranian officials who report to him, an administration official said.

Even if the two sides sit down, American officials worry that Iran could prolong the negotiations to try to forestall military action and enable it to complete critical elements of its nuclear program, particularly at underground sites. Some American officials would like to limit the talks to Iran's nuclear program, one official said, while Iran has indicated that it wants to broaden the agenda to include Syria, Bahrain and other issues that have bedeviled relations between Iran and the United States since the American hostage crisis in 1979.

"We've always seen the nuclear issue as independent," the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. "We're not going to allow them to draw a linkage."

The question of how best to deal with Iran has political ramifications for Mr. Romney as well. While he has accused Mr. Obama of weakness, he has given few specifics about what he would do differently.

Moreover, the prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level -- a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.

Beyond that, how Mr. Romney responds could signal how he would act if he becomes commander in chief. The danger of opposing such a diplomatic initiative is that it could make him look as if he is willing to risk another American war in the Middle East without exhausting alternatives.

It's an easy call for Mr. Romney, one he can use to torque up the pressure on the Ayatollah--just say that he welcomes the opportunity to travel to Tehran, as Ronald Reagan traveled to Moscow; to sit down with Mr. Khamenei himself; and to discuss the shared Iranian-American interests in normalized relations, democracy and self-determination for all the Shi'a of the Middle East and a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Posted by at October 20, 2012 6:55 PM
  

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