Opinion An American at the Table in Iran Talks
President Bushs decision to send one of his top diplomats to join the European Unions diplomats in talks with Iran makes any incentives package look more credible.
President Bush is trying diplomacy for a change.
It is very late in the game, but we hope this means that Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are learning the lessons of seven years of failed foreign policies built almost completely on isolating (or attacking) Americas adversaries. There is little chance of solving major international problems so long as this country refuses even to have a seat at the table.
We also hope it means that Vice President Dick Cheney and his crew have given up their dangerous fantasy of bombing away Irans nuclear ambitions -- or at least have been overruled by the president.
It has been two years since the United Nations ordered Iran to stop enriching uranium. Tehran continues to defy that order, and its scientists are getting ever closer to mastering a process that is the hardest part of building a nuclear weapon.
The United States and other major powers (Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia) have tried to use a mixture of incentives and sanctions to get Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. But neither the rewards nor the punishments have been especially persuasive.
China and Russia, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have blocked tough sanctions, while the Bush administration has not made a credible offer of improved relations and security guarantees and had refused to sit down at the negotiating table.
Mr. Bushs decision to send William Burns (Ms. Rices third in command and a well-respected former ambassador to Russia) to join the European Unions foreign policy chief and other top diplomats in talks with Iran makes any incentives package look more credible. It also shifts the diplomatic pressure back to Tehran. And it will make it harder for Beijing and Moscow to resist imposing a new round of sanctions if Iran remains obstinate.
Washington could do even better -- with the Iranian people, international opinion and possibly Irans leaders -- if it followed up with an offer to open an interests section in Tehran.
The administration is grudgingly asserting this is a one-time-only deal and that Mr. Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians or hold separate meetings with them. We welcome Mr. Bushs willingness to try diplomacy for a change. But he might do even better if he didnt trumpet his ambivalence quite so loudly.