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So, Who’s Ready for Direct Negotiations With Iran?


The first Morning Jolt of a critical week is now off to the editors, on its way to you this morning. A preview:

Tonight’s Fun Topic: So, Who’s Ready for Direct Negotiations With Iran?

Hey, remember when President Obama agreed to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions?

Liberals swooned, and his campaign had to emphasize that he didn’t mean what everyone saw him say.

I like to point out the expiration dates of Obama’s statements, but maybe he got this one in just before the deadline:

WASHINGTON — The question of whether the United States should seek to engage Iran in one-on-one talks on its nuclear program joined the likely topics for Monday’s final presidential debate as supporters of President Obama and Mitt Romney jousted on Sunday over the issue.

The prospect of such talks was raised in an article published over the weekend by The New York Times that said Iran and the United States had agreed in principle to direct talks after the presidential election.

On Saturday, the White House denied that a final agreement on direct talks had been reached, while saying that it remained open to such contacts. On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report.

But if the report proved to be true, said a supporter of Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, Iran’s motives should be seriously questioned.

“I hope we don’t take the bait,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think this is a ploy by the Iranians” to buy time for their nuclear program and divide the international coalition, he said.

A supporter of Mr. Obama, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on the same program that the tough international sanctions the president helped marshal against Iran might be bearing fruit exactly as hoped, forcing Iran to blink.

“This month of October, the currency in Iran has declined 40 percent in value,” Mr. Durbin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said. “There is unrest in the streets of Tehran, and the leaders in Iran are feeling it. That’s exactly what we wanted the sanctions program to do.”

The Times, citing unnamed senior Obama administration officials, reported over the weekend that after secret exchanges, American and Iranian officials had agreed in principle to hold one-on-one negotiations between the nations, which have not had official diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Ah, “secret exchanges” with Iran. So we’ve already been negotiating with them; the Obama administration just didn’t want to share that fact with the American people.

Heck of a setup for Mitt Romney for tonight: “Mister President, just what has your administration offered Iran in these secret negotiations?”

Obama’s options here are to answer, “there are no secret negotiations,” to which Romney will ask if the New York Times is just making this all up; to answer the question honestly (stop laughing) or to acknowledge that contacts have been made, but that he refuses to get into the details because the matter is sensitive.

Actually, Obama will probably try to blur the line between the publicly known multi-lateral negotiations and these newly revealed/disputed secret bilateral negotiations, and sprinkle in some of his 2008-era it-takes-a-strong-man-to-be-willing-to-negotiate happy talk.

You’ll recall in that 2008 debate answer, “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.” Well, sometimes talking to them isn’t punishment, either, and sometimes it’s just the stalling tactic they want – or worse.

Somehow this reminds me of our bold effort to negotiate with the Taliban. Hey, how did that one turn out?

With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal…

The failure to broker meaningful talks with the Taliban underscores the fragility of the gains claimed during the surge of American troops ordered by President Obama in 2009. The 30,000 extra troops won back territory held by the Taliban, but by nearly all estimates failed to deal a crippling blow.

Critics of the Obama administration say the United States also weakened its own hand by agreeing to the 2014 deadline for its own involvement in combat operations, voluntarily ceding the prize the Taliban has been seeking for over a decade. The Obama administration defends the deadline as crucial to persuading the Afghan government and military to assume full responsibility for the country, and politically necessary for Americans weary of what has already become the country’s longest war.

There was a bipartisan consensus in favor of negotiating with the Taliban, but that consensus didn’t extend to millions of Americans with no foreign-policy experience, who probably could summarize their sensibilities in just a few sentences: “They’re the Taliban, and they’re trying to kill our soldiers. Why do we think we can trust them to keep their word? And if we can’t trust them to keep their word on their end of the agreement, why are we negotiating with them?”

Tags: Barack Obama , Iran , Mitt Romney , Wisconson


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