Engaging Iran

Article excerpt

Senator Chuck Hagel ("At a Dangerous Crossroads," Spring 2008) is a rare and heartening voice of radical moderation in American national politics. His perspective is crucial at this time of shrill hyperboles toward Iran that threatens to lock all presidential candidates into a self-defeating cycle of threats and coercion that has already been tried and found wanting.

Regrettably, the kind of bargain that Iran would have found extremely hard to resist in the previous two decades is no longer available. The price keeps getting higher, and we constantly find ourselves behind the curve. Perhaps for that reason, the concept of engagement with Iran has gained currency. What is often unclear is exactly what would be on the table. Let me offer a few practical suggestions.

Sir John Thomson and his colleagues at MIT have been working on the concept of a multinational enrichment facility to be located in Iran, as a way to respond to Iran's determination to have a fuel source on its own soil while keeping the process transparent and out of Iranian hands exclusively. More recently, a version of this idea has been given greater visibility by former ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering in the New York Review of Books. The great appeal of this approach is that the Iranians have already signed on in principle. It does not eliminate all enrichment capacity from Iranian soil, but in reality that point was passed years ago and, in my view, is no longer a realistic goal.

In considering a negotiating agenda with the Iranians, it is worth remembering the terms of the Iranian 2003 offer to the United States that was ignored. Although that was not an agreement or a firm offer, it did spell out the nature of arrangements that Iran would be willing to consider in a final agreement. Iran acknowledged its understanding of the rather high bar of transparency that the United States would require on WMD and recognized that it would have to address a number of other difficult issues. …