The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing, but the US and Iran are set to talk. The talks will begin October 1, among Iran and the P5 + 1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was ebullient, even as he urged Iran to “engage substantively with the agency,” saying:
“Addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran’s future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue. I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialogue with Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect.”
That’s exactly the right tone and message, and it underscores that President Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to open a dialogue with Iran. It’s an effort that began with his comments on Iran during his inaugural address, his videotaped Nowruz message to Iran last winter, a pair of quiet messages to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Leader, and Obama’s careful and balanced response to the post-election crisis over the summer. Once started, the talks aren’t likely to have a swift conclusion, but the very fact that they’re taking place will make it impossible for hawks to argue successfully either for harsh, “crippling” sanctions on Iran or for a military attack.
That didn’t stop Bibi Netanyahu, for one, from trying. Speaking to Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committee today, the Israeli leader said:
“I believe that now is the time to start harsh sanctions against Iran — if not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective. I believe that the international community can act effectively. The Iranian regime is weak, the Iranian people would not rally around the regime if they felt for the first time that there was a danger to their regime — and this would be a new situation.”
Netanyahu’s belief in sanctions, harsh measures, and regime change was echoed by John Hannah, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney, who wrote an op-ed criticizing Obama for taking regime change off the table in dealing with Iran. Hannah utterly ignored the fact that eight years of anti-Iran, pro-regime change bombast from the Bush-Cheney administration did nothing but strengthen Iran’s hawks, while Obama’s softer, dialogue-centered approach to Iran helped boost the power of the reformists and their allies in Iranian politics. Indeed, it was precisely Obama’s less belligerent tone that confused the Iranian hardliners, emboldened the liberals, reformists and pragmatists in Iran, and therefore did more to create the conditions for “regime change” than anything that Bush, Cheney, and Hannah did.