Applying the Lessons of Iran to the Honduran Crisis
How Obama can deal with the great presidential dispute in six easy steps.
September 21, 2009 - 12:30 am
3. Offer direct talks with the United States. It’s always good to have a group do the talking (such as the P5 with Iran, or the six parties with North Korea, or the OAS with Honduras), but such discussions tend to go nowhere. We should talk directly, even with our worst adversaries, and certainly with our longtime friend. It is silly to try to punish Honduras by not talking to it. As Abraham Lincoln or some similar president once said, the “notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them … is ridiculous.”
4. Place no preconditions on the talks. Preconditions just stop talks right in their tracks. Take the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (please). Israel told President Obama in May it wanted to commence negotiations with the Palestinians — with no preconditions. But the Palestinians insisted on a precondition — one not set forth in the Oslo Process (which resulted in an offer of a Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank) or in the Annapolis Process (which resulted in an offer of a Palestinian state on 100% of the West Bank, after land swaps). Apparently, the Palestinians were concerned that, without the precondition, they might not receive a third offer of a state, or something. Their confidence perpetually needs rebuilding.
In any event, the U.S. has spent four fruitless months negotiating with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians — reneging on longstanding oral understandings with Israel, ignoring written assurances from a prior president — and the Palestinians have just been standing by, watching as the Obama administration works for them. The Obama Process is already four months behind schedule!
Let’s not make the same mistake with the Republic of Honduras. Do what we’re doing with Iran: no preconditions!
5. Do not set a time limit. Once the talks start, the last thing we would want to do is set a time limit for them, because that will mean we may very well have to end the talks before they succeed. A time limit is an obstacle to peace, since it limits time.
If we find we must impose a time limit, we need to make sure it is one the other side can meet by sending us a memo that ignores our request, offers evasive blather, but can be treated by one of our prominent useful idiots as something that “bears close scrutiny.”
6. Do not worry if what we want to talk to Honduras about is not on the agenda. Perhaps Honduras will want to talk about applying their safeguards for democracy to all the other countries around the world. Perhaps Honduras will want to discuss how their single-term constitutional provision has worked for them and suggest that the real problem is that the U.S. allows two terms. Perhaps they will say that they have already spoken directly to our secretary of state and told her “no” (and given the same answer on multiple other occasions) and request that we start the talks by informing them what part of their prior answer we do not understand.
None of this should matter: there is simply no way to know for sure what their position is unless we first call them by their proper name, send them a video, offer direct talks, put no preconditions on them, do not set a time limit (and don’t enforce it if we do), and do not worry that they won’t put our concerns on the agenda. This is what we have done with Iran and — unlike Honduras — talks will start on October 1. The smell of a Nobel Peace Prize is already in the air.