The Problem with Iran Is Not Lack of Communication
"Groundhog day, over and over again," is how Ambassador John Bolton has described U.S. efforts to talk with Iran, saying all such talks achieve is to buy time for Iran to work on its nuclear weapons program. That was in 2009, and right he was. There were talks with Iran before that -- in 2009 Michael Ledeen linked to a list of more than 28 high-level U.S.-Iran meetings held from 2001-2008, under the Bush administration. President Obama arrived in office with an extended hand, offering "mutual respect," and yet more talking -- recall the December 2009 flop in Geneva.
Yet, with tensions high over tougher sanctions on Iran, and Iran's threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, here come the calls for Groundhog day, again. From Trita Parsi, with his knack for channeling policies that benefit Iran, not the U.S., comes an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post, "How Obama should talk to Iran." Parsi's prescription is that the U.S. administration drop sanctions and shower Iran with (more) offers of respect: "Talk to everyone -- and talk a lot." Implying that Iran's power structure is similar to that of the U.S. (by way of quoting an unnamed "prominent journalist" close to the foreign minister of Turkey to that effect), Parsi urges a "process" that would have U.S. officials engaging -- respectfully, of course -- in "sustained" palaver with a panoply of Iranian "power centers," including "the supreme leader's office, the parliament,the president's circle of advisers, the National Security Council and influential clergymen." Parsi would have the U.S. jabber away for however long it might take to build a "strong rapport" with Iran, in expectation that eventually the happy day would arrive on which Iran's regime would have talked with so many U.S. officials, for so long, that Tehran would no longer feel the need to pursue nuclear weapons. (Of course, by then Iran's regime would almost certainly have nuclear weapons -- but let's not be dissuaded by such tedious practical considerations...).
Also writing in the Washington Post, on "Steps to Defuse a Crisis," David Ignatius more modestly suggests that the U.S. and Iran need a back channel for direct communication. For this purpose, he would like to volunteer CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, and the head of Iran's Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani. Ignatius notes that "Some would argue Suleimani is the heart of the problem" -- what with some U.S. officials believing he was probably aware of the Quds assassination plot that the Justice Department alleges was meant to blow up the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. But Ignatius suggests that "precisely because Suleimani heads Iran's most powerful intelligence network, messages through him would carry special weight."