Is it time to talk to Iran?
Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan argues that now is the time to talk directly to Iran about its nuclear program, “not as an act of appeasement but as a hard-headed security calculation”. Consider:
Bush should commence direct talks with Iran not because they offer a hopeful chance for peace and good will, but because they’re a necessary prelude to an international campaign of economic pressureâ€”and because more drastic military pressure would likely backfire. There are two likely outcomes from serious American efforts to negotiate, both good. First, if Iran cooperates with the talks, then it might suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Second, if Iran doesn’t cooperate, then the Bush administration will have made its case to China, Russia, and Europe that the regime is dangerous and untrustworthy. At that point it will be much easier to impose the economic sanctions that will scare the Iranians into better behavior.
Economic pressure — the threat of enforceable sanctions, if not actual sanctions — seems to be the way to go. As Kaplan puts it, “[t]he one thing that Iran’s leaders genuinely seem to fear is economic sanctions,” and it’s possible, now that it’s “nuclear,” that Iran might “make a deal”. But the U.S., which doesn’t trade with Iran anyway, needs the E.U., Russia, and China on board. The E.U. may support sanctions of some kind, but Russia and China don’t — and likely won’t until and unless all other avenues short of military intervention have been pursued. Given that a military strike would come with enormous repercussions, it does seem to be in America’s best interests to proceed seriously to the bargaining table. Iran may not give in, but why not make the effort?
Update: According to Reuters, “The United States on Tuesday failed to secure international support for targeted sanctions against Iran and President George W. Bush refused to rule out nuclear strikes if diplomacy failed to curb the Islamic Republic’s atomic ambitions.” Come again? “Asked if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush said: ‘All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we’re working hard to do so.'” Are you? Well, that’s good. I’m sure we can all trust you to do the right thing. Especially with your finger on the button.