While Iran's nuclear program continues to dominate headlines and the speeches of presidential hopefuls, few are calling for some form of dialogue with the Iranian government that might defuse the crisis.
In an op-ed piece in the NY Times this week, Flynt Leverett described a "detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations" sent by the Iranian government to Washington through Swiss diplomats in 2003, a plan that apparently the Bush administration not only ignored, but then chided the Swiss intermediaries for having the gall to deliver. While not quite a bombshell, such an outright rejection of direct negotiations with Iran by our government should be big news. Imagine, if you will, that the U.S. and Iran had engaged in negotiations to settle their differences some three years ago. It is unlikely, even if negotiations were still ongoing, that a radical hardliner such as President Ahmadinejad would have been elected president in 2005 (for the powers that be in Iran would most certainly have backed a moderate who would continue the dialog), and even less likely that we would be at a stalemate vis-à-vis the nuclear standoff.
Former President Khatami, with the backing of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, actually made numerous efforts to reach out to not only the Europeans but also indirectly the U.S.. Iran's decision to offer assistance and any support to the U.S. in the war against the Taliban was one such effort, but sadly for Khatami and his political heirs, its reward was to be included in the "axis of evil" in 2002. Despite that fact, and the opening it provided the hardliners in Tehran to dismiss the U.S. as an implacable enemy, the Iranians still wanted to talk in 2003. The Iraq war, it should be remembered, started in 2003, and it's anyone's guess how that adventure might have turned out if the Iranians weren't sitting back, gleeful that Saddam was gone, but hoping for a quagmire that would exhaust the U.S.. Given the Iranians' pathological hatred of Saddam Hussein, it is not inconceivable that Iran might have joined the "coalition of the willing," had relations improved sufficiently.
Today, in what has to be another effort to reach out to the U.S., Iran revealed that a proposal has been sent to the Civil Aviation Authority suggesting a direct air-link between the U.S. and Iran (and even allowing U.S. airlines to fly the route). So far, there has been no response from our side, or from Delta and United. The timing of such an overture is no accident. It indicates that despite all the rhetoric, the Iranians still want better relations with America.
Why our government persists in rejecting every Iranian overture is baffling, considering that we could use Iran's help in Iraq and its help in fighting Al Qaeda terrorism. And with Hamas' win in the Palestinian elections today, we could certainly use Iran's tremendous influence with that group when it comes to any future peace negotiations with Israel.
But don't try to book a JFK-THR roundtrip anytime soon.