Karim Sadjadpour has a fascinating Middle East Progress item on the question of how to do engagement with Iran. His five points:
- Build confidence on issues of common interest (rather than, say, opening with discussion of Israel or nuclear weapons).
- Understand where power lies (with the Supreme Leader).
- Speak softly (rather than boasting about all options being on the table, or issuing threats to obliterate Iran).
- Don’t let the spoilers set the tenor.
- Maintain an international approach.
- Get the Timing Right (i.e., save big steps for after Iran’s June 2009 presidential election).
One thread running through this advice is that for a diplomatic strategy to succeed, the people carrying it out need to be primarily concerned with trying to make it succeed, hoping that the fruits of a breakthrough would provide the political justification for having undertaken the mission. If you go in trying to guard your right flank and “look tough,” it’s going to be hard to follow this advice.