Since the release of the NIE summary on December 3, the case for engagement with Iran has grown in strength again. While engagement has been the principled tool for Western diplomacy with Tehran, has it worked?
Russia is engaging Tehran by providing them with nuclear technology and arms deals. Europe is engaging Iran through dialogue and trade. Saudi Arabia is engaging Iran through invitations to the hajj and diplomatic meetings. Turkey is engaging Tehran much in the same way—trade and talks. The Gulf States are also engaging Tehran. And so is Egypt—despite the lack of diplomatic ties since 1979: according to Iranian sources, Ali Larijani was just there on a visit and cultural ties are deepening. Even the U.S. has engaged Iran—though on a limited basis—over Iraq.
Now, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, has rebuffed the U.S. after Condoleezza Rice’s latest overture to Tehran, urging the U.S. to change its tone. Tehran’s latest rejection should come as no surprise, given Iran’s consistent rebuff of such offers, beginning with their negative response to the P5+1 in June 2006.
There has been plenty of engagement with Tehran since its nuclear program was exposed in August 2002. The only thing that engagement yielded so far is more time for Tehran to achieve its nuclear ambitions. Still, after the NIE’s publication, some seem more convinced than ever that engagement is the only way forward. They should think twice.
The NIE says very clearly that Iran was busy building a nuclear weapon in 2003. That was not the time of Mahdi-believing isolationist hardliners like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the height of Western engagement with Tehran, when Mohammad Khatami, then president of Iran, was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations”—while building a nuke under cover. If that is what engagement was yielding in 2003, what exactly is the evidence that engagement today would yield more positive results?