Goodbye to Bush Silliness on Iran

By Dan Froomkin
10:29 AM ET, 04/ 9/2009

One of the most flatly irrational aspects of George W. Bush's approach to foreign policy was his position that you don't sit down to negotiate with your enemies until they've already met your demands.

Sort of misses the point of negotiating, doesn't it?

Most notably, Bush refused to talk to Iran about foregoing its nuclear weapons program -- unless it agreed ahead of time to forego its nuclear weapons program.

Fresh on the heels of a European tour in which President Obama advocated and modeled a profoundly different style of American leadership, the Obama administration has now officially shelved Bush's no-talking policy for Iran.

One official even described Bush's approach as "silly."

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The United States said yesterday that it would directly participate 'from now on' in international talks with Iran over its nuclear activities, the latest move in the Obama administration's promised diplomatic outreach to the Tehran government.

"'There's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. The United States, she said in brief comments at the State Department, would be a full participant with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in any future Iran negotiations....

"A senior administration official, who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity...said there was no internal debate over whether to fully join the negotiations if and when another round is scheduled. 'It was kind of silly that we had to walk out of the room' when the Iranians were present, the official said."

Laura Rozen blogs for Foreign Policy: "Last July, after previously insisting Iran must halt its uranium enrichment program before joining talks with it, the Bush administration sent a diplomat to Geneva to attend international discussions to which Iran sent a representative. But the Bush administration instructed the American official, undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, to observe, but not participate with his Iranian counterpart. They also said his presence would be a one-time affair, at which Iran could take or leave an international offer of inducements in exchange for Tehran giving up its uranium enrichment program."

Rozen writes that State Department spokesman Robert Wood said yesterday that "Washington's approach going forward would be more sustained diplomatic engagement. 'A diplomatic solution necessitates a willingness to engage directly with each other on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest,' he said.

"'If Iran accepts, we hope this will be the occasion to seriously engage Iran on how to break the logjam of recent years and work in a cooperative manner to resolve the outstanding international concerns about its nuclear program,' Wood said."

Farah Stockman writes in the Boston Globe: "In his inaugural speech, Obama pledged to 'extend a hand' to those who are willing to 'unclench' their fists.

"Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner and staunch defender of Iran's nuclear program, spoke positively about Obama's offer, telling an audience in the city of Isfahan: 'If a hand has truly been extended with sincerity, based on justice and respect, Iran will welcome it.'

"But he also warned that if Obama's offer is only for appearances, then 'Iran's answer will be the same as the one given to Mr. Bush.'"

And today, Nasser Karimi writes for the Associated Press, Ahmadinejad "inaugurated a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor" that the West fears "could eventually be used for producing a nuclear weapon."

Where does the public stand on this issue? CNN reports: "Nearly six in ten Americans think that Obama administration officials should hold diplomatic talks with Iran without that country first making significant changes in its policies....Only about one in five view Iran as an immediate threat to the United States, although an additional 60 percent say that Iran represents a long-term threat."

Meanwhile, as Paul Richter noted in the Los Angeles Times, Vice President Biden on Tuesday "issued a high-level admonishment to Israel's new government ... that it would be 'ill advised' to launch a military strike against Iran."

"Biden said in a CNN interview that he does not believe newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take such a step."

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