Mullen: I Want ‘A Healthy Dialogue With Iran’ Because ‘Engagement Would Offer An Opportunity’

mullen.jpgLast month, President Bush launched a political attack at Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and other Democrats while speaking before the Israeli parliament, saying that they favor a policy of appeasement toward terrorists. “Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals,” said Bush. “We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement.”

After Bush made the comments, CNN’s Ed Henry reported that “White House aides” said that Bush was referring to those who have said “it would be okay for the U.S. President to meet with leaders like the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.” But now, Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, appears to be siding with those who favor direct engagement with Iran.

In an interview with National Journal published today, Mullen speaks favorably of directly engaging with Iran, even though he says Iran has not always shown a “propensity” for it:

NJ: Given Iran’s role as a spoiler in the region, and with so much now at stake for the United States, doesn’t it make sense to directly engage with Iran to discern its motives and explore potential accommodations?

MULLEN: I would like to have a healthy dialogue with Iran, but many different administrations over a period of decades have been unable to achieve that. But I do think engagement would offer an opportunity, certainly, to understand each other better. That said, the Iranians have to want to talk too. It can’t just be a desire on our part. And the Iranians haven’t shown much propensity for dialogue.

Mullen isn’t the only administration official who has eschewed Bush’s absolutist rhetoric in favor of a more diplomatic approach.

The day before Bush made his “appeasement” remarks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a group of retired diplomats that we need to “figure out a way to develop some leverage” with Iran “and then sit down and talk with them.” Gates later refused to defend Bush’s attack.