- President Bush’s diplomatic gambit to open talks with Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions is either brilliant or foolish, but it is in the nature of such gambits that the outcome can’t be certain. The nature of the Iranian regime, which sponsors terror groups and openly talks of using nuclear weapons to vaporize Israel, suggests pessimism is in order.
The hard reality of the situation is that the Iranians are not constrained by such quaint ideas as acceptable civilized behavior. The Iranian government is a radical theocracy bent, apparently, on regional domination. It is perhaps a different side of the same coin of Saddam Hussein’s one-time ambitions. Add to that the fact that the ever-reliable old European powers, China and Russia, all seem apt, for their own reasons, to do business with Iran and that U.S. forces are tied down in Iraq, and U.S. options appear fairly limited.
Given that the Iranian government already has stated that it won’t renounce nuclear weapons as a precondition of talks, perhaps the best outcome one can hope for in the near term is that the U.S. move will expose the haplessness of ordinary diplomacy and thereby make it harder for European governments to block sanctions or other action at the United Nations Security Council.
The downside of Bush’s move is that talks of any sort lend legitimacy to an illegitimate, unpopular dictatorship. The regime surely will use its new standing for domestic propaganda purposes. Bush’s recent public statements on Iran sadly are absent any substantive mention of pro-democracy Iranian dissidents.
The Bush initiative could well bear fruit. But the strategy might inspire more confidence if it were accompanied by more vocal — and substantive — long-term support for dissidents, much as the United States supported pro-democracy activists within the old Soviet bloc even as the U.S. government negotiated arms treaties with Moscow.