“SURPRISINGLY RELAXED”….David Ignatius is in Tehran and files an interesting report today. It’s interesting mainly because its tone is so different from most of what you hear about Iran these days, even from liberals:

With a Thursday deadline looming on the nuclear issue, you might expect that Tehran would feel like a garrison town. But it’s surprisingly relaxed, and I think that’s because most Iranians expect the crisis will be defused somehow. The regime has been putting on a show of defiance as the U.N. deadline approaches, shooting off new missiles in Persian Gulf war games, opening a new heavy-water reactor and festooning downtown streets with banners of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrallah. But this isn’t a militarized country, and it certainly isn’t eager for confrontation with America.

….Perhaps the most interesting fact of life in Tehran this week is that you can’t find anyone who is opposed in principle to dialogue with the United States. Even a few months ago, that topic was almost taboo, but now here’s Ahmadinejad himself calling for a public debate with Bush. “The golden key to being popular here is to normalize relations with the U.S.,” says Shahriar Khateri, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards who is now a doctor and a participant in a joint project with American scientists to study the effects of chemical weapons.

Even now, it’s not too late to talk to Iran. There are things they want and things we want. If we take a toughminded approach to negotiation, which includes a starkly realistic assessment of what concessions we can afford to make and what concessions from Iran we genuinely can’t live without, there’s a chance we could make real progress. It’s no panacea, but it’s better than the alternative.