Getting to Yes With Iran

To resolve outstanding issues with Iran, the West should be dealing with the only person powerful enough to make deals and deliver concessions. That person is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

WASHINGTON, DC – With the release of America’s National Intelligence Estimate, according to which Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program, the prospect of military confrontation with the Bush administration dimmed. But months later, it is clear that the danger is not past, because Iran has not renounced the production of nuclear weapons, which its enriched uranium could eventually be used to fuel.

All parties need to find a formula to resolve the issue before it again threatens to erupt into conflict. Western diplomacy in recent years has focused on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as the key to resolving the crisis. But this approach is a blind alley.

Let us recall the fate of Ahmedinejad’s two immediate predecessors. Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005) tried to implement dramatic political reform, while Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) tried to open the Iranian economy to the West. Both failed, because Iran’s presidents do not run the country. A solution to the nuclear dilemma – or any other problem in Iran’s foreign relations – is in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

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