Both the United States and Iran seem to be moving toward direct talks regarding the security situation in Iraq, and that could lead to more comprehensive discussions, including diplomatic ways to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
That’s good news. Unfortunately, both sides have also dug in their heels on certain issues, requiring a deftness in discussions of which neither side may be capable.
The first bi-lateral talks on trying to reduce the chaos in Iraq are scheduled for Monday in Baghdad. The announcement comes even as the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that Iran has solved certain technological problems and is beginning to enrich uranium on a larger scale than before — though apparently quite far from the scale required to produce uranium enriched enough for a weapon. The Bush administration has declared that it will talk with Iran only about the security situation in Iraq, and not about any wider issues, such as Iranian nuclear efforts or the deplorable human-rights situation in Iran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (after a predictable warning against U.S. military action against Iran) has said that Iran is “ready and prepared” for talks with the United States, though he offered no details about his view of the scope of talks. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, noting that the Iraqi government has urged the United States to engage directly with Iran, told reporters that “We’ve had that channel (for talks with Iran) for some time, and it seemed like a good time to activate it.”
It would be prudent not to expect miracles. Iran has ambivalent motives toward Iraq: it is likely Iran has helped to stir up insurgency against U.S. forces just to discomfit the United States and make occupation difficult, but Iran also hopes to have a Shia-dominated (and potentially friendly) government in control of a relatively stable Iraq. The United States must realize that the goal of making Iraq a stable and reliable ally is not likely in the foreseeable future, but that if Iraq’s neighbors desist from interfering, an Iraq that is not a base for jihadist terrorist activities is a possibility.
If Iran and the United States are realistic, they could take steps toward an Iraq that is not a threat to its neighbors or the rest of the world, which would be in the interest of both countries. It would be even more helpful if talks regarding Iraq led to wider talks and eventually to consideration of reopening diplomatic and commercial relations. One can understand the emotional appeal of refusing to recognize countries of which one disapproves, but the Godfather knew better. Keep your friends close — and your enemies closer.