Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: In its waning days, the Bush Administration seems to be veering toward a policy of détente with Iran. Recent moves include a face-to-face meeting with Iran over its nuclear program and the likelihood of reopening a diplomatic mission in Tehran for the first time since — well, you remember. Iran responded to these gestures on the weekend by rebuffing the West's latest set of carrots while refusing once again to give up its uranium enrichment.
The Wall Street Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
July 22, 2008; Page A18
In its waning days, the Bush Administration seems to be veering toward a policy of détente with Iran. Recent moves include a face-to-face meeting with Iran over its nuclear program and the likelihood of reopening a diplomatic mission in Tehran for the first time since — well, you remember. Iran responded to these gestures on the weekend by rebuffing the West's latest set of carrots while refusing once again to give up its uranium enrichment.
What precisely did Iran do to deserve the warm shoulder? Now as ever, Tehran underwrites and arms terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, and calls for Israel's destruction. Earlier this month, it tested long-range missiles capable of reaching southern Europe. As for getting that bomb, Iran has made steady progress this decade, enriching uranium in increasingly sophisticated centrifuges in violation of three U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The State Department is playing down any shift in its approach toward Iran. William Burns, the third most senior U.S. diplomat, merely sat in on the latest round of talks this weekend between the 5+1 group — the permanent Security Council members and Germany — and Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jailili. And yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, possibly trying to rebalance the latest tilt, threatened a return to sanctions absent a "serious answer" from Iran on giving up its enrichment program.
As for the establishment of a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday wouldn't say when a decision might be taken, adding, "We want to have people-to-people contact with the Iranian people." News reports claim the decision is all but made, pending approval by the Iranians.
Diplomacy has its uses, and the U.S. can do more to support the Iranian peoples' struggle to shake off their oppressive theocracy. Just how a U.S. Interests Section would achieve that is another question: The Iranian government maintains a tight grip on what foreign embassies can or cannot do, as British diplomats have learned after twice coming under attack the past three years.
But diplomacy also means getting something for giving something. That's not how it has worked here. Mr. Bush has conceded Iran's supposed "right" to build nuclear reactors, despite the fact that Tehran forfeited that right when the U.N. found it to be in material breach of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Mr. Bush has also offered to negotiate directly with Tehran on the sole condition — the only "precondition," as Barack Obama refers to it — that Iran stop enriching uranium. Yet Iran continues to enrich.
The Iranians understand that the fondest wish of America's foreign policy establishment is to strike what is often called a "grand bargain" that would lead to the normalization of relations between the two states. We would not be opposed to such a bargain, provided it required Iran to verifiably abandon all its nuclear programs, including the so-called civilian ones; stop supplying arms to militias that are killing our soldiers in Iraq; end its support for terrorist groups and hand over the suspects in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings, in which 19 U.S. servicemen died.
Instead, Iran is having it both ways, behaving like a rogue state even as it is increasingly accorded the respect due a normal one. We understand that the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with other rotten regimes. But so long as U.S. diplomatic recognition of Iran remains a carrot in any negotiations with them, what's the point of surrendering it by stages now?
That's a question some of our friends in the neighborhood are asking themselves. We know from talks with Iraqis that they wonder what price they might pay for our accommodation of their ambitious, meddling neighbor. We know from our Israeli friends, too, that they sense the accommodationist drift of our Iran policy and are drawing conclusions of their own. Unlike the Bush Administration in its legacy-hunting days, inconstancy is not a policy option they can afford.