0

Why Talk to Iran?

WASHINGTON, DC – June 12 marks the first anniversary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election as Iran’s president. Despite the Iranian opposition’s continuing efforts to contest the outcome and advance political liberalization, Ahmadinejad and his allies have largely succeeded in consolidating their hold on power by using brute force to repress the reform movement. Hopes that a popular uprising might topple the regime have fizzled.

Meanwhile, the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program is escalating. The Iranian regime continues to defy the international community’s efforts to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. In response, US President Barack Obama’s administration has been working through the United Nations Security Council to impose tougher economic sanctions.  Nonetheless, Iran edges toward mastering the process of enriching uranium to weapons-grade purity. The closer Iran gets to developing a nuclear weapon, the greater the likelihood that Israel, with or without US help, might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Iranian government’s intransigence, its blatant efforts to mislead nuclear inspectors, its odious calls for the destruction of Israel, its brutal repression of political opponents – all provide good reason for Obama to slam the door shut on dialogue. With diplomacy having failed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, critics of engagement charge, it is time to resort to coercion before Iran crosses the nuclear Rubicon. A rising chorus of voices now forswears engagement with Iran’s rulers, insisting that it is time for the regime to go.

But closing off dialogue with Iran would be a precipitous and dangerous mistake. As my new book, How Enemies Become Friends, confirms, even fierce adversaries can settle their differences through negotiation. For four compelling reasons, the US and its allies should keep the door open to dialogue until the eleventh hour.