Should Negotiations With Iran Be Given a Chance?

One of the questions raised by right-thinking people about Iran's nuclear program is this: Shouldn't the U.S. give more time for diplomacy and negotiations to work? Well, sure, except that we've already given outreach and diplomacy and negotiations time to work. Years, in fact. I'm not just referring to the farcical P5 + 1 negotiations that have dragged on for months without impact.

There's never been much indication that the Iranian leadership is interested in negotiating with the United States on any matter, large or small.  A pillar of Khomeinist ideology is the belief that the U.S. is the "Great Satan" and that the Islamic Republican of Iran's mission on Earth is to thwart Satan's plan for world domination. It is very difficult for the regime to shift away from this thinking. Meanwhile, as we talk about talking, Iran has blown through every nuclear red line established by the U.N. Security Council, as Harvard's Graham Allison has pointed out.
Here is David Frum on the failed promise of negotiations:

I've long been an advocate of aggressive American diplomacy toward Iran. In our 2004 book An End to Evil, Richard Perle and I urged a very public American offer to meet and negotiate with Iran. It's not such a unique brainwave -- Robert Kagan has urged similar ideas. President Obama tried just such an approach in 2009 -- only to find his hand brutally slapped away by the Iranian regime, which then falsified election results and brutally suppressed democracy protests. Diplomacy with Iran has failed because Iran does not want it to succeed, not because the US wants war.

And here is Graham Allison on Iran's push across every established red line:

Events in Iran have advanced faster than the policy community's thinking about the problem. The brute fact is that Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: It has lost its nuclear virginity.

...(T)he United States has insisted that Iran would never be allowed to develop the capability to enrich uranium, as that could be used to build a nuclear bomb. Three unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions demanded that Iran "suspend all enrichment-related activities." That was a worthy aim. Technically, mastery of enrichment is the brightest red line short of nuclear weapons. Israelis have called it the "point of no return."

Bush chose the right operational objective when he declared, "We cannot allow the Iranians to have the capacity to enrich." Sadly, the strategy he pursued to prevent Iran from crossing that red line failed. One can debate whether a different strategy would have produced a different outcome. At this point, however, we must recognize the irreversible bottom line: Iran has demonstrably mastered the capability to manufacture and operate centrifuges to enrich uranium.

By the way, Allison wrote this in 2009. There's a long history of Iran pushing through red lines, while Westerners demand more time for negotiations.

And no, I'm not advocating a strike on Iran, certainly not by Israel, and not by the U.S., either. There is still time left before the U.S. must face the decision of whether to use military force to counter Iran's nuclear plans. But we shouldn't be kidding ourselves that this crisis is going to end with a rational, negotiated settlement. It could happen, but nothing that has happened so far suggests that this is likely.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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