Just as Nixon went to China, should Obama go to Iran?
World powers, and the US in particular, need a game-changer to move Iran to a cooperative stance concerning its nuclear program, a few analysts argue. Such an Obama overture to Iran is a provocative idea, they say, but the alternative may be military confrontation.
(Page 2 of 2)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Iran’s stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium is bringing it closer to the “red line” that the Israeli leader has warned could trigger military strikes against Iranian nuclear installations.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Nuclear Iran
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Iran continues to say that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenai repeating that nuclear weapons are immoral. But Iran also vows never to bargain away its uranium enrichment program nor to bow to the West’s stiff economic sanctions.
US options in this context appear to be extremely limited. Earlier this month Vice President Joe Biden repeated Obama’s offer – first made in the president’s 2009 inaugural address – of direct talks with Tehran. But Mr. Biden, speaking at an international security conference in Munich, said the Iranians would have to be prepared to address a specific agenda.
“We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise,” Biden said, according to news reports.
The Iranian nuclear crisis will never be resolved without some resolution of the Washington-Tehran standoff, say some experts on the region. But others, including several Republican hawks, warn that the Iranians would likely drag out any talks with Washington even as they continue making nuclear progress.
Other forces in the US, including some Iranian opposition groups, would virulently oppose any American overture that appears to legitimize a regime they believe most Iranians do not support.
At the same Munich conference as Biden, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said he would not oppose direct talks but held out little hope they would produce anything. “We’ve seen this movie before,” he said.
“We should learn the lessons of history, and that is that no matter what the talks are, if you still have the fundamental problem – and the fundamental problem is Iranians’ commitment to acquisition of a nuclear weapon – it doesn’t matter to a significant degree,” Senator McCain said.
Ms. Leverett, speaking from her experience as part of the US team that met with Iranians in the early years of the Afghanistan war, says the US has learned that “we can negotiate with Khamenai” and the regime he heads.
The Leveretts answered questions recently at an event at the Center for the National Interest, a realist foreign-policy think tank in Washington.
Any opening to Iran will be more difficult now because of America’s damaged standing in the Middle East after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, says Mr. Leverett, adding that the NSC under Bush quashed his efforts to disseminate his views on engaging Iran.
“America’s position in the region is in free fall,” he says, adding that a third military intervention in the region would be “disastrous” for the US.
But “coming to terms with Iran’s Islamic republic” could mark the beginning of a turnaround for the US in the region, Mr. Leverett suggests. President Richard “Nixon’s realigning of the US approach to China saved the US position in Asia.” A similar approach now by Onama toward Iran, he says, “could do the same.”