Is Diplomacy with Iran Futile?

Article excerpt

Ask an auditorium full of smart, informed New Yorkers if diplomacy has a prayer of ending Iran's nuclear ambitions and, it turns out, they split evenly into three groups: the yeas, the nays, and the undecideds. Then offer that same audience 90 minutes of cogent debate from four experts - including Liz Cheney, a State Department official under President Bush and the daughter of one very high-profile former vice president; and Nicholas Burns, a Clinton and Bush diplomat - and positions can shift. When the debate (motion: "DipA-loA-macy With Iran Is Going Nowhere") ended and audience members punched their keypads in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"-style, 59 percent opposed the motion. Give peace a chance, this audience seemed to say. The debate, held earlier this month by Intelligence Squared US, was part of a forum that aims to bring a higher level of public discussion to top issues of the day. The audience confronted Iran's failure to respond to President Obama's proposal for unconditional talks, as well as the prospect for war if diplomacy is not at least attempted. A surprise guest at the debate was the father of the only female debater. Dick Cheney kept mum during the event, but at a dinner afterward, he congratulated the teams for a provocative debate. "If diplomacy can work, of course we should try it," he said. He then added that he didn't think it could, because "our partners" are less intent on preventing a nuclear Iran than on restraining America from using military force. Here are some of the debate's notable arguments on either side: YES, Diplomacy beats another war NO, It takes two to talk, and Iran isn't YES, Diplomacy beats another war Argued by NICHOLAS BURNS, No. 3 diplomat in the Bush administration, and KENNETH POLLACK, Brookings Institution analyst On diplomacy's record so far: "It's difficult to say diplomacy with Iran is going nowhere when we haven't started diplomacy.... We've had three decades of a nonrelationship with Iran." - Nicholas Burns On why diplomacy is a necessary step for winning international backing: "How do you propose to get tough [international] sanctions without going through diplomacy?" - Kenneth Pollack "We need to be able to say to the Russians and the Chinese, 'We did what you wanted, we tried diplomacy; now you need to back us. …