So why keep talking to Iran?
It's no surprise that the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran have collapsed. There was zero progress toward halting Iran's march toward nuclear capability, an outcome that could have been predicted by anyone seriously assessing the regime's behavior. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton released a statement on the talks that included these remarks:
We came here with specific practical proposals which would build trust. We put forward detailed ideas including on an updated version of the TRR fuel exchange arrangement and ways to improve transparency through IAEA monitoring measures accepted by the international community. We came without preconditions, and made every effort to secure agreement.
We have had a series of meetings with Iran, including a separate meeting of the Vienna Group countries with Iran.
We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas. But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this, unless we agreed to pre-conditions relating to enrichment and sanctions.
On the possibility of removing sanctions, Ashton told the Iranians that "it remains our united position that this would accompany the re-establishment of confidence in the Iranian nuclear programme rather than be a precondition for discussing it."
But she invited the Iranian regime to try again:
This is not the conclusion I had hoped for. We had hoped to embark on a discussion of practical ways forward, and have made every effort to make that happen. I am disappointed to say that this has not been possible. The E3+3 reaffirmed their continued commitment to pursuing a diplomatic solution. We expect Iran to demonstrate a pragmatic attitude and to respond positively to our openness toward dialogue and negotiations. The door remains open, the choice remains in Iran's hands.
I have made personally clear to Dr Jalili that our proposals remain on the table and that we are ready to start talking without preconditions the moment Iran is ready.
There are substantial grounds for questioning why we should be continuing this tactic. A senior congressional staffer put it this way in an e-mail yesterday:
We have been ratcheting up the pressure on the Iranian regime on the assumption that, when a certain level of pressure is achieved, they will decide to negotiate seriously. There's a possibility that this assumption may prove mistaken. It's possible that, at some point, we may need to conclude this particular regime simply isn't capable of negotiating seriously - that no level of pressure that we are able to generate will translate to the strategic shift we are hoping for.
Conservatives, of course, have been arguing from the get-go that the Obama team's assumption was false. Now, it is not merely "possible" that the administration was wrong and its crtics right; it is a near certainty.
Instead of talking to an Iranian regime that has shown no interest in negotiations -- and, at the same time, derives legitimacy from the negotiations -- maybe there are more fruitful actions that we and our allies could be taking. These would include: stressing that the military option remains on the table; making regime change the official policy of the U.S.; working to isolate Iran from international bodies and heightening the focus on Iran's human rights abuses. As the congressional staffer put it, if the original premise of the Obama administration was wrong, then "the aim of our strategy shouldn't be to change the behavior of the regime, but, rather, to change the regime itself." Too bad Obama didn't have this insight at the time of the Green Revolution.
Now, however, the administration has time to try something that might actually work. But first, it has to stop trying to engage a regime that refuses to be engaged.
| January 23, 2011; 10:32 AM ET
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