According to The New York Times, the Bush Administration is weighing the possibility of holding direct talks with Iran over its nuclear issue. Judging from the Times account, most of the support for negotiations comes from current and former State Department officials. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is said to have broached the subject with top aides, after recent discussions with European allies. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are said to oppose talks with Tehran.
For now, I'll cast my lot with Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld. As we observed earlier this week, Iran has offered little proof that it will negotiate in good faith, and actually work toward a solution for the nuclear issue. On-going talks with the Europeans have produced nothing to date; ditto for negotiations with Moscow on a possible deal to move Iran's uranium enrichment efforts to a Russian facility. In fact, Iran's diplomatic strategy seems more aimed at creating the illusion of serious talks, aimed at buying time for its nuclear program.
European leaders and diplomats are said to be "anxious" for the U.S. to enter talks with Iran. And for obvious reasons. Not only would American participation add more weight and legitimacy to the process, it would also reduce prospects for U.S. military action, and demands for the Europeans to support the use of force. From their perspective, the process is paramount, even if prospects for a negotiated settlement are dim, at best.
Serious talks with Tehran should be preceded by a set of conditions that are not negotiable. First, Iran agrees to end its nuclear development efforts. Secondly, all Iranian nuclear facilities are subject to no-notice inspections by the IAEA, U.S. and European teams for at least the next decade, and thirdly, critical facilities at Khondab, Esfahan and Natanz will be dismantled and detroyed, under the supervision of the international community. Such actions would prove that Iran is serious about nuclear talks. If such conditions are not met, then any prospective nuclear talks would be almost meaningless. Vice-President Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld seem to understand that. It will be interesting to see if the State Department and the diplomacy crowd can absorb that lesson as well.