The Road Not Taken

The American Conservative, March 12, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Road Not Taken


As Beltway factions outdo themselves to portray Iran as a Mideast crazy state or the new Nazi Germany, it helps to examine some actual facts of the relationship. Tehran's May 2003 attempt to open a negotiation channel with Washington-the details are only now coming to light-will be of intense interest to future generations if President Bush eventually ignites a war with Iran. For the moment, that overture stands as an example of what was on the table in 2003 and may still be possible today, though under less favorable circumstances.

The unsigned document of about 400 words was sent, along with a cover letter to the Bush administration, through Switzerland's ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann. (The New America Foundation circulated a copy of the two documents at one of its conferences earlier this month.) Guldimann asserted that the proposal had been reviewed and approved by Iran's top religious leader, Sayyid Ali Khamenei, as well as by then President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. According to Guldimann, it signified a genuine effort by Iran to break the impasse with Washington.

Entitled "Roadmap," the Persian document is divided into three parts, essentially agenda items: Washington's supposed aims, Tehran's aims, and diplomatic steps to achieve them.

In the initial section, Iran acknowledged that the U.S. could be expected to seek complete Iranian adherence to International Atomic Energy protocols and full transparency to ensure that there were no efforts to build or possess weapons of mass destruction. Iran further anticipated that the U.S. would want decisive help in mopping up al-Qaeda, a lessening of Iranian support for Palestinian opposition groups, pressure to stop violence against Israel within the 1967 borders, a demilitarization of Hezbollah, and acceptance of the "two states approach" for Israel and Palestine.

From Washington, Iran would seek an end of efforts to overthrow the Islamic Republic and change the Iranian political system, lifting of sanctions, an unblocking of Iranian efforts to gain entry into the WTO, no Turkish invasion of North Iraq, action against the MEK (a left-wing anti-Islamic Republic group on the State Department's terrorism list), peaceful access to nuclear technology, and "recognition of Iran's legitimate security interests in the region."

Without pre-judging how negotiations might proceed, these agenda items seem eminently rational. If agreement could have been reached, there would have been no Iranian "bomb" on the horizon, no war between Hezbollah and Israel, and a much more pacified Iraq-potentially leaving America with far fewer casualties than its troops have suffered. …

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