For months, the Bush administration has stubbornly refused to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran until it stopped its uranium enrichment – a counterproductive policy that has heightened tensions with Iran while doing little to address the very nuclear program that the administration regularly denounces. But Tuesday marked a significant change in policy, when President Bush decided to stop giving Iran the silent treatment and authorized sending a high level diplomat to this weekend’s international talks.
The State Department’s third-ranking official, William Burns, will join a meeting with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. Burns has been given a strict list of do’s and don’ts for his visit: listen but don’t negotiate; attend the meeting but don’t meet alone with Jalili; and emphasize that your participation is a one-time only event. Maybe they gave him a curfew, too.
Despite all the restrictions of the meeting, the thaw towards Iran is a welcome step in the right direction. The New York Times pointed out the two-fold significance of the decision:
First, the Bush administration has decided to abandon its longstanding position that it would meet face to face with Iran only after the country suspended its uranium enrichment, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.
Second, an American partner at the table injects new importance to the negotiating track of the six global powers confronting Iran — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States — even though their official stance is that no substantive talks can begin until uranium enrichment stops.
Congress should seize the opportunity presented by Bush’s reversal to bolster calls for diplomacy with Iran and dampen enthusiasm for military attacks. Rather than making diplomatic engagement a “one-time” exception to the norm, Congress can call for continuing direct diplomacy without preconditions as the best way to resolve questions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Yet Congress has been largely silent about the need for diplomacy beyond punitive sanctions. Currently, hundreds of representatives are cosponsoring H Con Res 362, a non-binding resolution that would impose “stringent inspection requirements” on all goods, including petroleum, going in and out of Iran. This clause could be interpreted by Iran and the international community as calling for a naval blockade, which would be an act of war. The resolution would give President Bush a green light by signaling that Congress would stand behind increased military aggression against Iran. You can urge your member of Congress to support diplomacy by opposing H Con Res 362.
Photo of William Burns courtesy of AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File