Talking to Iran

TALKING TO IRAN….Here is Christiane Amanpour’s latest from Iran:

As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other. ”Natural allies,” this official said.

….He insisted he was describing the thinking at the highest levels of the religious leadership — the center of decision-making power in Iran. I asked whether he meant Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. “Yes,” he said.

….”Each of us is afraid of looking weak if we take the first step,” he said. “We have this fear in common with America. Before contemplating recognition, each side feels it necessary to convince the other side that ‘I am not weak.'”

Look: Iran is not some wayward child with a heart of gold that can be made into our bosom buddy by sitting down and swapping a few stories. It’s a harsh, illiberal theocracy that’s been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades. But the weird thing is that this senior official is right: there really aren’t any fundamental geopolitical reasons that Iran and the United States need to be enemies. Iran isn’t territorial, they’re happy to sell their oil to the highest bidder, and they really do hate al-Qaeda.

1979 was a long time ago, and in the past few years Iran has made overture after overture toward us. Some of those overtures have been kind of weird; they’ve been interspersed with plenty of hostile rhetoric; and they don’t always follow up on them. But they keep making them, and no country does that unless they really are looking for a rapprochement of some kind. What’s more, Iran did cooperate pretty significantly with us immediately after 9/11. That’s pretty concrete evidence that there’s at least a chance of working out some kind of acceptable modus vivendi with them.

I know, I know. There’s still Israel. And obviously I don’t have any magical solution to that. But even there, there might be a deal to be struck. Not an easy one, or a quick one, but something. But we’ll never know unless we actually make a serious effort.

Seems worth it to me. The Soviet Union turned from implacable enemy to semi-friend in a remarkably short time, and that conflict was far longer lasting and more deeply rooted than our conflict with Iran. And remember: Ronald Reagan ensured his legacy by cutting a deal with the Soviets during his final two years in office. Maybe Bush should try to do the same.