IRAN SAYS BUGGER OFF….The big foreign policy news of the day is that Iran has rejected an offer of economic incentives from the United States to abandon its nuclear program. So is that it? Were the Iran hawks right and now it’s off to war we go?

A while back, I got a bit frustrated with hawks who seemed to be saying, in effect, “well, negotiations won’t work so why bother trying.” Indeed, I’m a lot less sanguine about the Iran regime than many liberals: I think the Iranian neoconservatives, including the increasingly influential Abadgaran Party, are really in control in Tehran, and that “pragmatists” like Hashemi Rafsanjani aren’t all that pragmatic, or at least too politically weak to be pragmatic. But for the love of Khomeini, it’s at least worth trying to see if we can’t strike a deal. Then, when we know for sure it won’t work, we can consider other options.

But even now, it doesn’t seem like the U.S. has yet been very serious about offering a workable “grand bargain”. Jeffrey Lewis [EDIT: Sorry, Paul Kerr], of ArmsControlWonk, points out that we’re basically offering Iran modest economic incentives and some spare parts in exchange for Iran giving up its nuclear fuel cycle, something the country is legally allowed to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not to apologize for the regime, but little wonder they said “no”. So it seems like there’s still a lot of bad-faith diplomacy on the part of the Bush administration, though it’s hard to tell just yet. In an interview I did with him a while back, Kenneth Pollack suggested that any “grand bargain” needs to include security guarantees if we want Iran to completely give up its nuclear aspirations. There may be problems with this approach?Dan Darling has pointed some of them out?but nothing to make me think it’s not worth trying.

On another note, I wonder if discussions with Iran might proceed more smoothly if they started with other, non-nuclear issues, like those al-Qaeda members still lurking around in Iran. Pollack suggested to me that there’s a real divide in Tehran over whether to harbor these guys or kick them out, and thus far they’ve just punted and done nothing. If that’s right, then perhaps negotiations can open on this issue, as a trust-building exercise. The U.S., note, once shot down a deal to swap al-Qaeda members in Iran in exchange for an Iranian exile group, the Mojahideen al-Khalq (MKO), ostensible because we thought the MKO might be useful for regime change in Tehran. Unfortunately, as this Jamestown Foundation report points out, the MKO were vastly overrated in this regard, and now the new Iraqi government will probably just hand this exile group over to Tehran anyway. So much for that, then, but possibly there are other avenues still open…

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