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Dangerous Dialogue

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980′s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

To make this “up yours” a little more explicit, Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, told the world’s press that he “rejected the possibility of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program.” This, coming on the eve of talks between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, will hardly improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

The only people who could possibly be surprised by the Iranian attitude are the architects of the Iraq Study Group report and other conveyors of wishful thinking in Washington. Naturally, their response will be that we should make even more concessions to Iran to overcome their “suspicions” about American behavior. What this rather naïve reasoning ignores are the big benefits that many in the Iranian leadership, especially in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, derive from the continuing Iranian policy of isolation and hostility. Not only does enmity with the West help to maintain their justification for a theocratic dictatorship, but, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains in this interview, it also helps well-connected Iranians to profit by looting the economy.

It takes quite an effort of will to convince oneself that the real issue between the U.S. and Iran is a lack of understanding. The reality is that the U.S. and Iran have radically divergent interests. In the case of Iraq, Iran’s interest is to foment strife that will weaken the U.S. and our democratic allies and expand its sphere of control. It is currently achieving that goal. Why would it, suddenly, want to help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Iraq? Until someone can answer that question convincingly, perhaps we should hold off on any further coffee klatches with the mullahs.



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