Today, Iranian state television is reporting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would consider an American request to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. Iran’s officials have been debating whether to allow such an outpost in part because the Washington Post in late June broke the story that U.S. diplomats were thinking of making a request to establish an interest section there. Iran currently has its own interest section in Washington, run out of the Pakistani embassy.
Will the State Department preempt the fierce McCain-Obama debate on talking with the mullahs by going out on its own and setting up an office in Iran? And why open a channel when we severed relations in 1979 after Iranians took over our embassy and held our diplomats hostage?
It’s all about regime change. “We’re always looking for ways to be able to reach out to the Iranian people,” said Tom Casey, State Department deputy spokesman, last month. Arthur Waldron suggests we open our door, offer pistachios (with a little whisky for those so inclined), and listen to Iranians who want to talk. This, he argues persuasively, will drive the country’s theocrats nuts. Most Iranians have a good image of the United States, notes Time‘s Azadeh Moaveni. Why? There are various reasons, but perhaps the most interesting is that they detest their leaders and their leaders detest us.
Washington has used its interest section in Havana to reach out to Cubans, even installing a Times Square-like moving electronic sign that aggravated Fidel Castro to no end. Why shouldn’t we also do all we can to irritate the ayatollahs through an office in their capital?
Of course, talking to the common folk in Tehran will not by itself bring down the theocracy. Yet it could be one of our most effective tools in undermining a government that considers us an enemy. In any event, an American interest section in Tehran will be one more thing for the country’s insecure leaders to worry about. And who knows, maybe even a few of them will end up in line to get a Scotch-and perhaps to defect to the greatest nation on earth.