January 03, 2007

Stop Saying Nyet to Talks, Condi!

Q&A w/ Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:

QUESTION: One of the other recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report was the idea that the United States should talk to Syria and Iran. Now, you've dealt with this -- I've heard your language on this before, but I -- part of the argument is that during the worse period of the Cold War, the United States talked at very high levels with the Soviet Union, even when the Soviet Union was engaged in all sorts of proxy wars against the United States throughout the world. And yet we've not had a figure of your stature talk to the Syrians for a long time. I think I was there when Powell went in 2003. In Iran it's been, you know, it went back when I was in college. So what is the --

SECRETARY RICE: You're that young Glenn -- (laughter) --

QUESTION: Yes, I think so. Anyway, what is the roadblock there? What is the difficulty with simply sitting down and talking with them and making -- in the way that we did with the Soviet Union?

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Well, let me make three points. The first is that on Syria, you're right, Colin Powell talked to them. When the President was reelected Rich Armitage talked to them. It's not a matter of not talking to them; it's a matter that they never act.

QUESTION: I think they would say that you've lectured them and there was no real good --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are certain things that about which there should be no give and take, like stop supporting terrorists is a kind of non-negotiable demand. So, yes, I think we have talked to the Syrians. On the Iranians, well, we would have ended 27 years of policy. I think I put it very, very -- I thought in fairly colorful language. I'd meet my counterpart any place, any time. All they have to do is suspend their enrichment -- which has been, by the way, a demand of the international system going back a couple of years – that’s so that the talks don't become a cover for continued enrichment activity that just practices how to resolve the engineering difficulties that would then allow you to go industrial-scale production. So the offer is there. And by the way, we didn't say you could talk only about the nuclear issue; we said we could talk about anything. But they couldn't take up that offer.

Now in the current context, I think the problem is that you have to ask if Iran and Syria are, in fact, have decided that it's in their interest to have an Iraq that is more stable than the one now, even if it's not full stable -- more stable than the one now, I assume they'll act. I assume they'll do it. And that we aren't the ones who have to tell them to do it.

The other explanation is they're looking for compensation to do that and that's a problem. Because when you go to the table, particularly in the circumstances now where you're going and saying, please, help us with the stability of Iraq, the potential that what they're really looking for is compensation. And then you have to ask -- it's very high -- and they you have to say, what is that compensation? Well, on the Syrian side, I suspect that the highest priorities are being played out in the streets of Lebanon including about the tribunal, including about Syrian power in Lebanon. And on the Iranian side, the Iranians have been pretty upfront about it. They're not going to talk about Iraq over here and their nuclear program over there. And so do you really want get yourself into a situation in which you're talking about allowing the Iranians to continue to acquire the nuclear technology that will allow them to build a nuclear weapon to try and achieve or try to get their support in Iraq where, if they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they'll do it anyway. So I just -- I think we have to come down from the level of talk to them and ask what's really going on here.

QUESTION: But some people would say the situation in Iraq is really bad and isn't the U.S. in a position where you may have to start paying the price.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that -- first of all, that the solutions to what is happening in Iraq lie in Baghdad and principally with Iraqis and their national reconciliation and their ability to deal with their own political differences not in Iran and not in Syria. There's no doubt that Syrian and Iran are exacerbating those tensions, but I think it's really principally in Iraq. And do I really want to pay the price of an Iranian nuclear weapon? No. That's not a price that is worth paying.

But let me just go to what I think is a rather facile and if I must say so, Glenn, not you -- I've heard it from many people -- a rather facile but empty comparison, which is to the Soviet Union.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't ever remember sitting down and talking to the Soviet Union about how they could help us secure stability in Western Europe, you know, defending Western Europe. That's not the conversation we had with the Soviet Union. We talked mostly to the Soviet Union about how not to annihilate each other because we were both in a position with large nuclear arsenals where there was a reason to try and work out some modus vivendi so that you didn't have a nuclear war. And to be fair it went a lot better as the Soviet Union got weaker. So there was a reason that those summits between American presidents and general secretaries of the Communist Party always reached their culmination with the signing of an arms control agreement because that was really the centerpiece of the relationship.

Now, we also talked to the Soviet Union in a particular context. Glenn, is looking because I gave this answer the other day and he was there, so he must be just trying to put it on the record. The Soviet Union -- we had a context for talking to the Soviet Union. We had a military alliance of democratic states that were committed to resisting Soviet aggression, like-minded states. We had the most extensive set of sanctions ever to be against a state, the system was called CoCom. And we effectively denied to the Soviet Union not just military technology but civilian technology to the point that the economy was the third world by the time the Soviet Union collapsed. We also talked to other people. We talked to refuseniks. We talked to dissidents. We talked to a lot of people who were trying to bring the system down. And so if you put the question of who do you talk to and under what circumstances in that context it looks a bit different than just to say, well, you talked to them during the worse days. We had a lot of leverage and a lot of arrows in our quiver in those days.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to what Fred asked. That as you see the situation in Iraq deteriorating -- if one wants to use the word (inaudible). You said that one of the reasons for not talking to Iran is that it would give them coverage to continue their nuclear program. I'm not sure I understand.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I said I think -- I didn't say -- look, the cover I think would come from just continuous talks which is why we had insisted on suspension for the nuclear talks.

QUESTION: Right. But the fact is they are continuing with their nuclear plans.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. What I don't want --

QUESTION: What do we get out of it and why -- in keeping our goal, our goal of getting them to suspend their nuclear plan and, secondarily, to do something in Iran -- in Iraq, why can we not change our tactics because the tactics that we're using now don't appear to be working? They're continuing to interfere in Iraq and they're continuing with their nuclear program.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all I don't want to link what we do on the nuclear program to what they do in Iraq; that's the real point here. Because we are on a track on the nuclear program -- you're right, they haven't suspended yet but we have international agreement that they have to suspend and go back to negotiate. Now, the day that the United States suddenly, because we want to make a deal about something, says, oh, by the way, we don't really have to -- you don't really have to suspend and the nuclear issues becomes a part of talks that I am quite certain will not be kept separate -- Iraq over here and nuclear over here. We've also blown up the international consensus that if we have a chance to have diplomacy work on the nuclear program is our only chance to make that diplomacy work.

We do have -- I think we will get a resolution in the Security Council that is a Chapter 7 resolution on Iran. A Chapter 7 resolution has its own collateral effects on a state. They'll be in a pretty specialized category along with North Korea as states that are under Chapter 7 resolutions. And so we have to continue -- we're engaged in increasingly tough financial measures against the Iranians. We have to continue that course because an Iranian nuclear weapon really, really will destabilize the Middle East in major ways. And I don't think we can afford any confusion about what we are prepared to do on the nuclear side in order to gain somehow support for something that they should do.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I won't belabor it, but you said we don't want to allow them to lead the issues. But it seems to me that we are the ones that will bring the issue. The President got up the other day and said -- when he was asked about the recommendation in the report to talk to them, he said, we will only talk to them about -- if they get rid of their nuclear program. So we're the ones that are linking it. We're saying unless that happens nothing else is happening.

SECRETARY RICE: The President was saying that we've offered the opportunity to talk because of the nuclear program. But I'm speaking to this hypothetical set of discussions with the Iranians that somehow not -- doesn't come from their accepting our offer to talk after suspension. This is a hypothetical set of talks and I think that that hypothetical set of talks goes in a very bad direction, which is that the Iranians come to the table, if they're prepared to talk about Iraq in any way, certainly wanting to link that to their nuclear program, they've been clear about it. Actually they've been saying, well, you know, we would have to talk about the nuclear program. And I don't think they mean they just want to talk about the nuclear program; they want a deal on the nuclear program and that's very dangerous.

It's all here, isn't it? The likely reality that we have a Secretary of State painfully insecure about her negotiating skills--apparently scared she'd be outfoxed by either Damascus or Teheran into forking over too much by way of "compensation", to use her (odd) verbiage, insecurities evidently heightened by her complaint she doesn't have enough "leverage" to bring to bear, or that negotiations w/ the Soviets got easier as the USSR weakened. (Can you imagine Henry Kissinger or James Baker or Dean Acheson whining so?) See too the equally painful portrayal, in its sophomoric inanity, that any approach to Iran or Syria would have to take place on limp-wristed, bended knee ("please, help us with the stability of Iraq", goes her laughable caricature). After all, we've got 140,000 troops there, no (and perhaps more soon)?

Then there's the sad resort to the Soviet analogy, used as a crutch from her old speciality area, to argue unpersuasively that, while dialogue with the Soviet Union made sense, talks with Iran and Syria would be a thoroughly different kettle of fish. Her defensiveness on this point (arguing that her predecessors speaking with Moscow and Beijing in no way can be construed as persuasive precedent to urge talks with Iran or Syria) is highlighted by her description of said argument as "facile" (it's anything but, after all, can anyone with a straight face argue we didn't have wide-ranging discussions at various levels with the Soviets on issues aside from nuclear disarmament, to include regional stabilization, indeed not least with regard to the Middle East?).

Most alarming, perhaps, there is the rhetorical uneveness ("international system" for the UNSC) and confusion surrounding the state of play with respect to potential negotiations with Iran. The correspondent from the Washington Post is almost apologetic (as the media, even the best of them, are rather supine in such settings), as he attempts to drag out from the Secretary some recognition of the blatant contradiction at play: she claims it's the Iranians who are linking the nuclear issue to Iraq, while it's actually the U.S. that has made it a non-negotiable condition that uranium enrichment be suspended before talks can begin on other issues, including Iraq. So who's doing the linking, friends?

But you protest. The Iranians will link too, and the "compensation" they will demand for, say, helping disarm the Mahdi militia (or Badr Organization, for that matter) is a nuclear weapon. Let's put aside that that's a grossly over-simplified view of how the prospective negotiation would proceed, let's put aside that we could try to keep the nuclear issue contained on the UNSC track (as the ISG recommends, though note Rice, without the least bit convincing explanation, says she's "quite certain" the issues couldn't be kept separate in such manner, thus basically creating a self-fulfilling prophecy on this point), let's put aside such linkage concerns didn't stop us from cooperating directly with Iran on Afghanistan, and let's further put aside that clever negotiating is all about getting the concessions you care about most without providing the other side carte blanche for their maximalist demands (translation: you don't have to give them a "deal" on the nuclear program, Mrs. Secretary, just because you start talking with them)--here's the obvious rub, regardless: right now the Iranians have the best of both worlds--they're full speed ahead on the enrichment and nuclear development front, and under no pressure to play ball on Iraq.

Could this policy be any more stupid, I am compelled to ask? Well, I'll hazard a response, and it's a resounding no. After all, there's a reason serious people like Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, James Baker, Dennis Ross, Richard Haass, Richard Armitage, Chuck Hagel and, yes, back in '04 at least, Bob Gates-all have been in favor of direct talks, with varying emphases and approaches, with the Islamic Republic of Iran. And these are all Republicans (save perhaps Ross)! Isn't it time to step up and get similarly serious? (I wonder, deep down, what guys on the 6th Floor and in the field, say David Satterfield, David Welch, etc, think, really think, about this policy? And I'm pretty sure I know what Bob Zeollick and Phil Zelikow thought of it, before their departures from State. I suspect they weren't fans, and thought it misguided, to say the least, though this is admitedly speculative).

So here's the deal: is Condoleeza Rice going to step up, educate the President and wean him away from Dick Cheney's Hobbesian mantras and Manichean worldview, or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases? Which is it going to be, one wonders, and with great concern, given the unfolding disaster in the region requiring urgent crisis management with all the key players, which in case you hadn't noticed, most assuredly include Syria and Iran.

P.S. Commenter Zathras has a sad review of Condoleeza Rice here. Sadly, I'm afraid I have to agree with most of it.

P.P.S. Just for the record, it's very possible the Iranians would say no to direct, bilateral Foreign Minister level talks with the US (even without preconditions), as James Baker has pointed out. But it's obvious that would only strengthen our hand on the diplomatic front at the UNSC, in terms of bolstering Chapter VII related activity, as Iran would then look to be acting (even more so than before) in bad faith. People, how do you spell no-brainer?

Posted by Gregory at January 3, 2007 04:33 AM

The problem is that as Secretary of State, Rice is just no damned good.

Which should have been quite obvious for quite some time. Anyone remember the good old days when Condi was placed firmly in charge of Plan 9 From Outer Space? C'mon! It wasn't that long ago. I would have thought that that disastrous tour of duty would have put all doubts to rest and extinguished all hope from even the most optimistic of pony hunters.

is Condoleeza Rice going to step up, educate the President and wean him away from Dick Cheney's Hobbesian simplicities and Manichean worldview, or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases?

This really isn't just a purely rhetorical question?

Posted by: Azael at January 3, 2007 06:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Is Condoleeza Rice going to step up, educate the President and wean him away from Dick Cheney's Hobbesian simplicities and Manichean worldview ..."


"or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases?"


If George Bush wanted a secretary of state who was capable of "stepping up" and educating him, I'm sure he would have chosen one. In fact, if this was important to him, we probably wouldn't be in this mess to begin with.

Posted by: weichi at January 3, 2007 06:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The comments made by the Secretary of State reflect the fact that wth the current debacle in Iraq, the USA's hand vis`-a-vis Persia (and for that matter Syria) has become extraordinary weak. With the weakness as much psychological (the bandwagon effect) as anything else. With many of the Sunni Arab States openly fearing what the USA might or might not give away in any negotiations with Teheran, the issue of a complete breakdown of the American-lead system in the Near East, with the self-same powers is a real one. Obviously, as Mr Djerejian rightly comments (as I have in my own online journal on several occasions in the last couple of months), Rice is a particularly weak and inept Secretary of State. As in her previous job as National Security Advisor, she has been
promoted way beyond what her own talents and experience can bear. The end result is that American diplomacy has gradually become paralyzed. And, the State Department with it. Witness the
fact that neither Zelikow or Zoelleck have been replaced.

Notwithstanding all this, managing this complex situation, is neither an easy or a very straighforward task. Despite people on Capital Hill and the press corps in Washington D.C. giving the impression otherwise. Of course, we need a different National Security team in Washington: a new Secretary of State, a new National Security Advisor, and, of course a new President. After all, it is the C-in-C, not Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney or anyone else, who really decides policy. If he wanted to, Bush could have appointed any number of more qualified individuals than Rice or Powell for that matter. He chose not to, for reasons which are probably (in the case of Rice) more psychological than anything else (the need to not be challenged or potentially overshadowed the way that Kissinger or for that matter Brzezinski started to overshadow their respective
President's). But, that is the nature of our peculiar constitutional system: the Chief Executive has the right to appoint pretty much
anyone who wants to, especially to White House positions. A state of affairs more monarchical than Republican by the bye...

Posted by: Charles Coutinho, PH. D. at January 3, 2007 07:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


So here's the deal: is Condoleeza Rice going to step up, educate the President and wean him away from Dick Cheney's Hobbesian simplicities and Manichean worldview,


or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases?


Just like weichi answered above. A question: Can you honestly name five things she has had success on as both National Security Adviser and now as Secretary of State?

And was she really this inept as Provost of Stanford?

Posted by: Dan at January 3, 2007 11:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've never had much good to say about Ms. Rice, and am not going to start now. That said, I think Iran and Syria are lower priorities than Sadr. If we can reach an accomodation with Sadr, everything else falls into place. If we can't, nothing else will matter. The question is, can we reach an arrangement with Sadr without first having done something with Iran and/or Syria? I think the answer is definitely yes: the Sadrists, for whatever support they might have abroad, are no one's cat's paw.

Check out the post at arablinks.blogspot.com on the failed negotiations with the Sunni resistance, btw.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 3, 2007 12:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

don't understand this continuing assumption that Rice is 'smart'. Anyone with experience of academia understands that knowing a lot of stuff is not the same as having good ideas: Rice goes out of her way, as shown clearly in quoted interview, to imply former - but I've yet to see much evidence of latter.

Which no doubt is why her defensive arguments, as you intimate Greg, are not only nonsensical but approach being absurdly so. Is she trying to cover up her own lack of skills, talent, ideas? Just being dutifully loyal to her overlord[s]? Or has the entire administration been overwhelmed by an irrational stupor, a miasma of inflated, self sustaining doublespeak - or worse some evangelical cynicism that accepts the world as hopelessly fallen and can only look forward with insipid idealism to the great redemption?

Posted by: saintsimon at January 3, 2007 12:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, trying again.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 3, 2007 01:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Interesting link. Gotta say, though, that some of the Sunni demands are a touch unreasonable. (I love the idea that the Sunni Resisistance must be pardoned, but the Shia Resistence must be punished.)


Whatever you think of Condi, the problem is likely with her boss. Her expalanations may be so pathetic because she does not believe them. Now, why she would choose to put herself in this position....

I guess talking is fine, but there has to be some committment to negotiate something, or nothing will come of them. I just do not see our Decider being able to agree to do anything that Syria or Iran might like. I also tend to think that what Syria, in particular, might want, is unacceptable to us. (I think Syria would much rather roll back into Lebanon than reclaim the Golan Heights -- though I do defer in some degree to your family's expertise in this area.) As for Iran, I don't think we are going to get them to give up their nukes, so we might as well get something for the concession to reality. But, I don't see our Decider climbing down.

*sigh*. How does a nation run a foreign policy when its leaders have proven itself incapable of doing so? Love to know your opinions on that.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 3, 2007 02:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For the sake of clarity:

What can the US possibly deliver, that the Iranians need?

Lebanon. A promise not to attack their nuke program.

What can Iran possibly deliver, that the US needs?

Genuine non-interference in Iraq, Lebanon etc. along with genuine assistance with inter-iraqi reconciliation, a halt to their nuke weapon development.

How do America's other regional allies feel about these "chips" and how will throwing them on the table effect relationships?

How should Iran's actively surruptitous war on Americans and our allies since 1979 color our judgement of them as a worthy negotiating partner?

Posted by: neill at January 3, 2007 02:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

WASHINGTON — Iran is supporting both Sunni and Shiite terrorists in the Iraqi civil war, according to secret Iranian documents captured by Americans in Iraq.

The news that American forces had captured Iranians in Iraq was widely reported last month, but less well known is that the Iranians were carrying documents that offered Americans insight into Iranian activities in Iraq.

An American intelligence official said the new material, which has been authenticated within the intelligence community, confirms "that Iran is working closely with both the Shiite militias and Sunni Jihadist groups." The source was careful to stress that the Iranian plans do not extend to cooperation with Baathist groups fighting the government in Baghdad, and said the documents rather show how the Quds Force — the arm of Iran's revolutionary guard that supports Shiite Hezbollah, Sunni Hamas, and Shiite death squads — is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna.

Another American official who has seen the summaries of the reporting affiliated with the arrests said it comprised a "smoking gun." "We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to," the official said.

One of the documents captured in the raids, according to two American officials and one Iraqi official, is an assessment of the Iraq civil war and new strategy from the Quds Force. According to the Iraqi source, that assessment is the equivalent of " Iran's Iraq Study Group," a reference to the bipartisan American commission that released war strategy recommendations after the November 7 elections. The document concludes, according to these sources, that Iraq's Sunni neighbors will step up their efforts to aid insurgent groups and that it is imperative for Iran to redouble efforts to retain influence with them, as well as with Shiite militias.........


Posted by: neill at January 3, 2007 03:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Y'all are burying the lede. GWB's Work Wife declares that diplomacy iwth the USSR "went a lot better as the Soviet Union got weaker" in order to deprecate the prospects of successful negotiations with Iran and Syria. The obvious implication is that Iran and Syria are gaining in strength or that the Bush Administration perceives Iran and Syria to be gaining in strength or both. IOW, by Rice's own admission, these declared enemies are flourishing on her administration's watch. WTG!

Neill: 1) Iranian history did not begin in 1979. 2) The New York Sun is not a real paper.

Posted by: Jim Henley at January 3, 2007 04:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The U.S. has been waging war on the Iranian people since 1953. I think it's time we offered a truce.

Posted by: David Tomlin at January 3, 2007 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is beyond frustrating. If I had just started paying attention I wouldn't be able to believe that someone, let alone the "nation's top diplomat" could actually be so blind to realities and devoid of strategic thinking. Unfortunately, having seen her (not) perform in this and her previous job I think that's probably likely.

In addition to the many shortcomings of her vision mentioned above, her "if they wanted stability in Iraq they wouldn't be aiding insurgents" theory doesn't even acknowledge the painfully obvious (perhaps because it would reveal what an ill-fated venture Iraq was from the get-go). In general Iran would prefer a stable (albeit weak) Iraq. However, in this situation, Iran has two reasons for not wanting stability in at present. If Iraq is not stable, it's certainly preferable to have the chaos focused somewhere other than toward Iran. If the chaos happens to be focused on a country that has been threatening Iran and that Iran sees as an enemy, all the more better. If the US goes, it becomes much harder to keep a lid on all that chaos (which of course exists regardless of what Iran does), and Iran has an incentive to not let Iraqi instability pour over its borders.

I also think the US has a couple more carrots to offer Iran than the ones neill mentions: economic relations and the ability to repair Iran's oil infrastructure, which reports (I'm unsure how accurate) say is straining and could collapse in a few years. This latter point could also entice them away from their nuclear program a bit as well (of course Iran wants a weapon, but there is also a genuine desire for nuclear power due to their ability to sell oil for such high prices abroad and possibly due to their lackluster infrastructure for sustaining the production of it).

Posted by: James at January 3, 2007 04:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not a big fan of Rice, but it seems to me her hands are tied by her bosses. Their position seems to be that Iran owes us an explanation and until we get one, we're not gonna talk to them. Bushco has a right, I suppose, to feel that way (in that they are the ones in charge of diplomacy, or what passes for it now), but they seem not to understand (actually, they seem never to have understood) that just because the US government says something, that doesn't make it so. How can they not understand this now, after the past 6 years?

Iran says, essentially, "You're not the boss of us," and Bush et al don't want to hear that so they say the problem is Iran's and the next move is Iran's. Bushco doesn't seem to understand that Iran doesn't have a problem. THEY don't think their having nuclear weapons is a problem, and they likely never will. Bushco expects them to give up one of the features of a sovereign nation, ie, the right to arm themselves as they see fit. Or (best-case scenario, IMO), Bushco PRETENDS that it expects Iran to give on nuclear weapons so that Bush et al can look tough to their last, deluded supporters over here, but in reality, they know it ain't gonna happen. They're just killing time 'til Bush leaves and they can prepare his replacement. Their war in Iraq is grinding on unsatisfactorily, so they have to find him a new threat to "face" to make him/the Republican party look tough to voters. The voters who still don't think he and his lackeys are a bunch of incompetents.

Posted by: LL at January 3, 2007 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

James brings up a great point.

Think about it, if Iraq were peaceful and flourishing, where would all of America's focus be? on Iran of course!

So just what incentive does Iran have at having Iraq be stable?

Posted by: Dan at January 3, 2007 05:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Condi might not be a good diplomat but I think her simplistic analysis is basicly right this time.

Anything the US might offer iran in exchange for what we could get from them, is directly against Bush doctrine. Promise we won't attack them? What could they give us that would be worth that? Give them lebanon? Trade off the only democracy in the middle east for what?

We have nothing to offer iran that Bush can bring himself to give. We have no reason to think they'd give us anything -- even if we did reverse course and offer them what they want, they'd know it was a definitive sign of weakness. Why should they be nice to Bush when they get no advantage from it?

You can say that if our diplomats are a lot better than their diplomats, we can arrange to get what we want without giving them what they want. I don't think that would work.just now. It's too obvious to them that we have nothing to offer except the promise not to bomb them. While they don't want to get bombed, I don't see that threat has a whole lot of leverage considering how much we'd hurt ourselves. Our diplomats just wouldn't have much to work with.

We're losing on all fronts, but it isn't desperate enough to negotiate a surrender. And there isn't much else we can hope to negotiate. We went through the farce of pretending to negotiate with north korea and coming home with nothing. Why would Bush agree to do that again?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 3, 2007 05:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We're losing on all fronts, but it isn't desperate enough to negotiate a surrender.

which makes it the perfect time to negotiate a "surrender" under the most favorable terms possible -- we can probably even negotiate to not have it officially called a surrender agreement......

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 3, 2007 08:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We could argue all day about what the US has to offer Iran and what Iran has to offer the US. The fact is no one knows what possibilities talks between the two sides would offer -- maybe nothing would come of them, maybe there could be some kind of historic deal reached. You can't blame Rice for not being clairvoyant. But you can blame her (I would say the whole administration) for being so pig-headed and incompetent as to reject the idea of talks outright. Can anyone think of time where talks between two opposing groups made the situation worse? There are only two possibilities I can think of to explain the administration's position. One, as suggested by Gregory, is that they think they will be "outsmarted" by Iranian diplomats. Anyone who is that inept should either resign or be fired (and if that includes Bush he should be removed for "inability to discharge the powers and duties" of the office). The second possibility, much more likely in my opinion, is that they have already made up their mind about what to do about Iran and so talking to them has no purpose. It is this inflexibility which made Iraq into the mess it is today.

Posted by: GT at January 3, 2007 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"...or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases?"

Of course, she is! That (IMHO, anyway) is exactly why Condoleezza Rice was placed in her present job: whatever else her qualifications for being Secretary of State were/are; an unquestioning deferral to the foreign-policy ideology and biases of her employers has been foremost among them - and it is really unlikely that Secy. Rice is going - even IF she were so inclined (a BIG 'if", and highly doubtful) - to be able to change the direction of US "diplomacy". Especially since the President and Vice President (who are actually in charge) have staked virtually all of their political capital and reputations on the maintenance of the neo-imperialistic "neocon" foreign-policy program - even in the face of its most blatantly obvious failure (Iraq). If Dr. Rice had even a moderate allotment of "diplomatic" sense, she would have resigned from the Bush Administration's disgraceful clownshow already (but them if she DID have such sense, she wouldn;t have accepted the job in the first place!).

Posted by: Jay C at January 3, 2007 11:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Frankly, I don’t follow the day to day developments in US –Iran relations and the diplomatic exchanges between the two countries regularly, so it would not be prudent for me to comment on Ms. Rice’s strategy with regards to Iran based on one Interview alone.

This particular interview does not appear to be an impromptu or an extempore, off the cuffs chat with some reporter and it is clear that Ms. Rice knew the questions or the line of questions that she was suppose to answer before she sat down for the interview.

We need to look at the whole picture before we make any judgment calls here.

It appears to me that Ms. Rice is placing a premium on direct talks with Iran. I say this because I believe that the US is already talking to Iran thru its EU allies and thru both Russia and China for some time. The issue may just be nukes or the negotiations may cover other areas too.

We recently saw an interview of Amb. Zarif of Iran on this blog. Apparently, Mr. Zarif was arguing for recognition of Iran’s position by the US. He pleaded that the US should also listen to “others” in the area. I am not suggesting that Ms. Rice was responding to Mr. Zarif’s interview but I do think that there is some back door opening that prompted both Parties(the US and Iran) to state their positions publicly.

We may question Ms. Rice’s experience and competence in some areas but to believe that the US state department and many of its officers are not paying attention to various options that become available over a period of time is not fair.

I must say that I have not followed Iran’s strategy on nukes and the way they handled their negations with EU or Russia and China but it was clear during the course of those negations that the Iranians had a complete plan and they followed that plan in negotiations which resulted in a watered down UN resolution.

Allow me to comment on one more issue that shows up time and time again in any discussion on US Iran relations. I think people jump to a conclusion and it may be deliberate on Ms. Rice part to imply that any bargain or give and take with Iran would automatically mean conceding nuke status to Iran or would mean overlooking the progress Iran is making towards establishing nuke capabilities. There are still many positions that both parties can take, if they do start direct negotiations.

Thinking that in exchange for Iran’s cooperation in Iraq, the US will have to look the other way on Iran’s nuke is not a good assumption. The US and Iran still have several other items that could be bargained before they even bring up the nuke issue. In other words, the US can negotiate with Iran without conceding anything on nukes.


Posted by: HP at January 3, 2007 11:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's what I would like to hear from Gregory and others of his "it doesn't hurt to talk" persuasion. Walk us throught 3 scenarios:
1) an optimistic, yet realistic, outcome. What would it look like, what would we get and how much would it cost us?
2) An outcome in which Condoleezza gets "out-smarted." What exactly does that mean? And how much worse would it be than the outcome under 1)?
3) an outcome so unsatisfactory to you that you would have to just walk away from the talks as hopeless?

Posted by: Frank at January 4, 2007 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bartering With Nothing

Iran probably couldn't care less about being portrayed as "acting in bad faith". Diplomatic isolation didn't work then, and it won't work now. Blame it on the absolute lack of faith in Russia and China.

Posted by: harrison at January 4, 2007 04:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I could make up as many scenarios as there are stars in the sky, but it would be no more than pointless speculation. My point was that talking can't make relations worse, and so the only plausible reason to avoid talks is that the administration doesn't want relations to improve, which further means that they have painted Iran firmly into the "enemy" corner. It's this black-and-white view of foreign policy that I object to. Iran is an increasingly important regional power, and refusing to talk to them severely limits our policy options.

Also I personally have great respect for the State Department and don't think that they would be "out-smarted" by Iranian diplomats. My point was that, assuming they do generally want relations with Iran to improve, the only reason to avoid talks would be that they think something bad would come of them. But this seems more like a lame excuse than a real lack of confidence.

Posted by: GT at January 4, 2007 04:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If this is a no-brainer, then we've got just the administration to handle it.

Posted by: AndrewBW at January 4, 2007 04:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why should the regional powers in the ME help us achieve a democratic government in Iraq when that example would constitute the impetus for pulling themselves down as they are currently constituted? To me that is the fundamental question. The thrust of the Bush foreign policy is a complete ME makeover. All foxes are being voted out of the chicken coop and must leave the barnyard ASAP. The question then becomes do you agree (or think feasible) with the makeover objective or not. If not, then a regional conference of ME potentates at least makes some logical sense. If you're not really serious or going to be a threat to them, why piss them off? That seems to be the Greg and GT view of matters. And who knows, they might even be helpful in some non-threatening (to them) manner. On the other hand if one accepts the makeover view it doesn't really matter what little Bashar, Mahmoud and Muqtada think because they are not with the program. Their constituencies are to be swept aside in the Bush inspired democratic revolution. Ditto King Abdullah, the House of Saud, the Egyptian power structure and much more. My guess is that the sclerotic impluses of professional diplomats (Greg being Exhibit - A) lean heavily to the former (why piss them off?) view.
My point here is that Greg should at LEAST make these basic distinctions, especially after backing Bush on the Centrality of Iraq in 2004. If he no longer agrees that Iraq is central to the ME makeover or that such a makeover is desirable as part of the war on terror, then he should say so and stop pretending that talking or not-talking to Syria or Iran is an issue within the same world view. It is not! Let's at least keep the discussion consistent with world views. If it's ME business-as-usual by all means talk to them, but at least acknowledge that it is, in fact, business-as-usual.

Posted by: Frank at January 5, 2007 03:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The first question you raised is a good one -- authoritarian regimes fear democratic impulses in neighboring countries. You can look at Russia's response to the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. However I'm not so sure the same things holds when those democratic impulses are imposed on the neighboring country by an invader. The Iraqi people did not bring down Saddam, the US did. The immediate fear of any unfriendly regimes then becomes invasion by the US, not a popular democratic movement. And in this case I think those authoritarian regimes would much rather see a stable democracy than the current state of affairs in Iraq which destabilizes the whole region, politically, economically, and socially.

You put forward the idea that all policies in the Middle East must be subservient to the "complete Middle East makeover". While that may have been the case around the time of the invasion, I don't think anyone in the administration still holds that priority scheme - it was primarily an idea of the neo-conservatives, and most of them are now out of the administration. There certainly was thinking at that time that creating democracy in Baghdad would cause a democratic ripple across the Middle East. However it is obvious that democracy has not taken hold in Baghdad, and will not anytime soon (if at all).

So at this point everyone is trying to do damage control in Iraq. That is why it is important to use all options available to help control the spiraling violence in Iraq -- including talking to Iran and Syria. And even separate from Iraq it makes no sense to simply break off all relations with a country as the US has done with Iran for nearly thirty years. Certainly this policy did not begin under Bush, but at this point we have more reason than before to engage them.

I cannot speak for Greg, but in my opinion this idea that the US can bring democracy to the Middle East is dangerous and wrong. I would certainly like for all the countries in the world to be liberal democracies with respect for civil and human rights. But that cannot be achieved by force, only by example. Bush is right when he says that freedom is our greatest asset -- that is why people look up to the US, want to live and study in the US, want to make their countries like the US -- or at least they did. After 9/11 support poured out from all over the world to the US. Even in Tehran there was a candlelight vigil held. But instead of seeking to build on this support, Bush went out and started threatening countries that didn't agree with him, kidnapping and torturing people who were even suspected of involvement with terrorist groups, and in the process we lost our mantle as the leader of the free world. Because of the War on Terror, the attacks of 9/11 were more successful than anyone in Al-Qaeda could have dreamed.

Posted by: GT at January 5, 2007 10:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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