02/16/2007 10:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If 2003 was a Missed Opportunity, It's a Mistake to Refuse to Talk to Iran Now

Ladies and Gentlemen, I rise in defense of Condoleezza Rice.

It's great that the Bush Administration's failure to respond to Iran's peace offer of 2003 is again in the news, thanks to the Leverett affair and Glenn Kessler's reporting in the Washington Post.

But 99% of the press, expert opinion, blogging, and commenting on this that I have seen has missed the essential point.

The essential point is not that Condoleezza Rice may have misled Congress about what she knew about the Iran peace offer and when she knew it. (Omigod! Not everyone in Washington is always a truth-teller? Call out the Army!)

The essential point is not that we should question the competence of Condoleezza Rice to be our nation's top diplomat. She wouldn't have been my first choice, but she is currently leader of the "hey guys, let's not have a totally insane foreign policy" faction in the Administration, and her faction just won an important victory worth defending in the agreement with North Korea, as Korea expert John Feffer notes. (About lying to Congress: note that Elliott Abrams, leading the anti-Rice faction in the Administration trying to torpedo the Korea deal because it might undermine the hardline on Iran, did plead guilty to lying to Congress about the contras.)

The essential point is that if it was a mistake to ignore Iran's peace offer in 2003, it's a mistake not to talk to Iran now.

Was Iran's 2003 peace offer a unique event in human history, dependent on circumstances that will never be repeated?

There is no reason to think so.

As Kessler has reported, the Iranian offer was signed off on by the top Iranian leadership, including the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who, as his title implies, was the top leader in Iran. The President of Iran is not the top leader. The President of Iran has more power than the president does in many countries where the post is almost purely ceremonial, but nothing like the President of the United States. In Iran, the powers that we most associate with the President of the United States - like control of foreign policy, for example - are vested in the Supreme Leader. (In fact, one of the reasons Mahmoud Ahmedinijad won the presidency in Iran was that many reform-minded Iranians didn't vote, having been convinced by the failed reform presidency of Mohammed Khatemi that the presidency of Iran isn't worth a bucketful of warm spit.)

Guess who the Supreme Leader of Iran is today?

Ali Khamenei. Yep. Same guy.

This doesn't prove, of course, that if we were to negotiate with Iran today, we could get the same deal Iran offered in 2003.

But it does strongly suggest that it is insane not to pursue the possibility. The Congressionally-appointed bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended unanimously that the United States should talk to Iran and Syria. Why isn't Congress clamoring for this every day? (Representative Ron Paul introduced a resolution saying the U.S. should follow this recommendation.)

It may be hard for some to imagine that the government of Iran would recognize Israel and accept a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, as they offered to do. They won't even say the word "Israel," referring to the "Zionist entity" or some such.

Pretty crazy, huh?

But that's how the Palestinian leadership used to behave.

How did that change?


Maybe if we engaged Iran, the U.S. could convince the U.S. taxpayer - financed Israeli government to recognize Palestine and accept a two-state solution on the 1967 borders. Then we might really get somewhere.

--Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy, February 16, 2007


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