Engaging Iran

Asked about the possibility of military strikes in Iran, President Bush told reporters yesterday, “I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table.”

President Bush is being disingenuous. Diplomatic negotiations led by the European Union have been ongoing since 2003, and the truth is the Bush administration has been ambivalent if not disparaging toward the efforts. As Seymour Hersh pointed out during an interview this morning:

“I think there’s an understanding that Iran has ambitions to become a nuclear power. It’s not there yet. The goal of these talks is to offer them, I guess, to use a cliche, the carrot they need in terms of increased trade and increased credits and dual-use goods, goods that they have been denied by sanctions because of their activities, in exchange for a commitment to stop. The United States has not joined in those talks, absolutely has nothing to do with them.”

Just three months ago, Undersecretary of State John Bolton mocked the very notion of diplomacy with Iran. At a conference in London, Bolton “responded to a question about whether he would support Europe’s attempt to offer Iran incentives with the terse one-liner: ‘I don’t do carrots.’”

Weeks later, in mid-November, Secretary Powell attended a conference in Egypt to discuss Iraq. Iranian diplomats were also present. Joseph Cirincione, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “many people assumed this was the perfect opportunity for Secretary Powell to informally negotiate with the Iranians.” State Department officials scoffed at the suggestion.

Even today, London’s Telegraph reports that “in private, American officials are furious at the European Union’s ‘engagement’ with Tehran. They say they will not cooperate with what they see as the dangerous policy of giving the regime ‘rewards for bad behavior.’”

Regarding diplomatic efforts with Iran, President Bush would be wise to mind the words of retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, who recently led a war game with top analysts and policymakers simulating preparations for a U.S. assault on Iran. “After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers,” Gardiner said of his exercise. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.”