Can We Talk?

by Clifford D. May

Joel Himelfarb writes:

[I]‘s past time to knock down a myth … : the notion that the Bush administration’s refusal to talk with Iran and Syria is the reason for our inability to stabilize Iraq.

[T]he fact is that plenty of engagement has already been taking place. For one thing, Syria retains an embassy in Washington; and the United States has one in Damascus. As for Iran, there are plenty of opportunities for the United States to talk with it in forums such as the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, where both states are represented. And America has been trying for decades to resolve differences diplomatically with both regimes. Since the September 11 attacks, Washington has held discussions with Tehran and Damascus on a wide array of issues, including matters such as Afghanistan; al Qaeda’s international terror networks; Iraq; Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The real issue today is that the Bush administration, which has been repeatedly burned in recent years when it tried to engage these governments, prefers discretion and holding lower-level talks. These regimes insist on holding well-publicized summits that yield them P.R. windfalls without forcing them to substantively change their policies. The fact is that, since the Carter’s presidency, U.S. administrations of both parties have tried unsuccessfully to persuade these governments to end their support for terrorism and their efforts to sabotage Washington’s efforts to facilitate peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

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