An understanding that Iran does not hold all the nuclear cards — and indeed that its hand in certain fundamental aspects is a weak one — underli
October 20, 2008

An understanding that Iran does not hold all the nuclear cards — and indeed that its hand in certain fundamental aspects is a weak one — underlies Obama’s policy approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. He believes that the United States has not exhausted nonmilitary options, and in many respects has not even tried seriously to apply them. He proposes a comprehensive settlement with Iran: In exchange for abandoning dual-use nuclear technologies and support of terrorism, the United States will offer incentives such as support for Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization, economic investment and a process leading to normalization of diplomatic relations.

If, however, Iran continues its troubling behavior, the United States will instead step up efforts to isolate Iran economically and politically.

Experience shows that Obama’s approach can work. Nearly 30 years ago, Iranian authorities first condoned and then facilitated the holding of more than 50 American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. At that time, too, there was a war faction in the United States that called for bombing Iran back into the Stone Age.

President Jimmy Carter chose a different course, one of patiently negotiating a resolution using nonmilitary sticks and carrots. It took 444 days to drive home the point to Iranian leaders that there are real costs for international isolation, not the least of which was Iran’s discovery that it had few friends when Saddam Hussein seized the hostage crisis as an opportunity to launch a military attack.

The hostage crisis contributed significantly to President Carter’s 1980 loss to Ronald Reagan. But he succeeded in resolving the crisis without resort to war...

Remember, Tomseth was one of those hostages, held for 444 days. He was no casual observer.

Meanwhile, even Israel appears to be coming around to the idea that negotiating with Iran makes sense - leaving McCain and the neocons entirely isolated out on the belligerent fringe of world opinion. Trita Parsi, co-founder and current President of the National Iranian American Council, writes at Rootless Cosmopolitan:

On the eve of his departure from political life, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert...argued that Israel had lost its “sense of proportion” when stating that it would deal with Iran militarily. “What we can do with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, we cannot do with the Iranians,” Olmert said, in stark contradiction to his own earlier warnings on Iran as well as the rhetoric of many of his hawkish cabinet members. “Let’s be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities,” he cautioned.

... A more nuanced rhetoric on Iran may have the down-side of reducing pressure on the U.S. to act - “If we don’t talk about Iran, the world will forget about Iran,” as Israeli Iran expert David Menashri put it – but has the up-side of enabling new options to emerge for the Jewish state.

Warning about being “boxed into the corner,” a recent Haaretz editorial offered a clear break from Israel’s Plan A: “The best chance of calming the atmosphere and reducing the threat lies in starting negotiations between the United States and Iran… [I]t is the only route not yet tried and is likely to help moderate Iranian policy. Israel must encourage an American rapprochement with Iran, with the understanding that this will serve the Israeli interest as well.” And in a video by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, several high-ranking Israeli generals throw their weight behind U.S.-Iran diplomacy as a path towards advancing Israeli security.

... Unlike Olmert who recognized the unfeasibility of Plan A while leaving office, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, may enter office with Plan B in sight. She rejects the idea that Israel “will not be able to live” with a nuclear Iran and says Israel must deal with the challenges it faces. Though Livni won’t go as far as Barack Obama in promising direct diplomacy with Tehran, she may help Israel find a few more options on Iran.

There's always a possibility that a more moderate president in Iran in 2009 may help find a few of those options too. Sidelining the zealots, be they Iranian, Isreali or American, is the best chance for solving all of the issues in the region. Even Churchill, hero of the Right, preferred talk to war.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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