Madeleine Albright’s former spokesman, Jamie Rubin, just had an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to open an interests section in Tehran even if we’re not yet ready to reestablish full diplomatic relations. Rumor has it that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in favor of doing precisely that.
I can see the logic of such a move: If we have an interests section in Havana, why not in Tehran? Especially when Iran already has an interests section in Washington. Establishing our own diplomatic outpost in Iran would, at the very least, enhance our understanding of Iran and possibly even make it easier to undermine the regime.
But is now the right time to make such a move? The U.S. is pressing hard on its allies to impose sanctions on Iran to prevent the mullahs from acquiring the bomb. The regime is pressing back against American isolation and the threat of Israeli military action by firing missiles in a very public display of saber-rattling. It is also, of course, sending munitions to Iraq, which are blowing up American service personnel. And it continues to arm Hezbollah and Hamas in their struggle against our democratic allies in Lebanon and Israel.
What message would we send if we were to suddenly open up a diplomatic outpost in Tehran? Many in the Iranian government would get the idea–perhaps correctly–that our resolve was cracking and that American hopes of mobilizing an international coalition against Iran were fading.
Moreover, sending U.S. diplomats to Tehran would be creating hostages to fortune. Who can ever forget the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and the damage it did? And who can ever doubt that the current Iranian regime, which is exactly the same regime that presided over the barbaric seizure of our personnel during the Carter administration, is capable of such acts in the future? Our Foreign Service personnel could be in distinct danger especially if at some point the U.S. or Israel decide to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At the very least, if they were withdrawn before such a strike, that would be a valuable tip-off to the Iranians that could forfeit the element of surprise.
So while I am sympathetic to the arguments for opening an interests section in Tehran I am not convinced that now is the right moment.