On July 16, news broke that President Bush had “authorized the most significant U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.” The report indicated that Bush planned to send a high ranking diplomat to participate in talks with Iran regarding its nuclear program. A day later, the Guardian reported that the Bush administration was taking the even more dramatic step of planning “to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran.”
The decision was surprising given that the Bush had recently compared talks with Iran to Nazi appeasement. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) repeatedly echoed Bush’s sentiments, calling restarting diplomatic relations with Iran “naive.”
In the first presidential debate, McCain went even further in condemning talking to Iran without preconditions. Contradicting one of his own foreign policy advisers — Henry Kissinger — McCain exclaimed: “It isn’t just naive; it’s dangerous!”
McCain’s comments have apparently forced a change in Bush administration policy, as Bush has now reportedly “shelved plans to set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran.” In a little-noticed Associated Press report from October 4, two administration officials argued that canceling the plans may have been an attempt to help McCain:
Opening an interest section, or de facto embassy, in Tehran could be interpreted as a Republican president helping a Republican nominee by neutralizing a distinction that might make the Democrat appealing.
It could be seen as hurting McCain by leaving him to defend a more hard-line position than the current Republican president’s. “There is no desire to inject this into the campaign,” the second official said.
But in canceling the U.S. outpost in Tehran less than two weeks after McCain took a strong stance against such efforts, the Bush administration appears to be very directly “injecting” the issue of diplomatic relations with Iran into the presidential campaign. Indeed, it raises the question: Did Bush kill the plan to avoid hurting McCain’s campaign?