On May 31, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the startling announcement that the United States would end a decades-old policy of refusing to engage in direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The shift appeared to run directly counter to the “Bush Doctrine” first articulated by the president in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
That doctrine, highlighted with great moral clarity a year later in “The National Security Strategy of the United States,” asserts that: “The United States will make no concessions to terrorist demands and strike no deals with them. We make no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them.” (Emphasis added.) Even as the State Department and the White House were in the final days of considering their sea change in Iran policy, President Bush took the opportunity of his West Point commencement address on May 27 to reaffirm that “America makes no distinction between the terrorists and the countries that harbor them. If you harbor a terrorist, you are just as guilty as the terrorists and you’re an enemy of the United States of America.”
By this explication, there can be no worse enemy of the United States than Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. No nation, then, is more worthy of pariah status — no negotiations and no deals. Iran, after all, has scoffed at the Bush Doctrine. It has continued to pull the strings of Hezbollah, the terrorist organization it owns and coordinates with Syria — the terrorist organization which works with al Qaeda and which, like al Qaeda, has a history of bombing American embassies and American military installations, in addition to kidnapping, torturing and murdering American government officials. Iran has helped al Qaeda leaders elude American forces. It has confederated with Iraqi insurgents to attack American and British forces. Moreover, earlier this year, the Islamic Republic’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, threatened to annihilate Israel, a stalwart American ally.
It was thus puzzling, to say the least, that the administration would choose to reward this heinous behavior with a seat at the negotiating table — certainly absent an unambiguous, verifiable foreswearing of terror promotion.
Well, the news service Iran Focus reports on the substance of the proposal made to Iran by the State Department in conjunction with its “partners” China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany. As detailed, it can only be regarded as crushing for those who took the Bush Doctrine seriously.
The proposal is a desperate petition, calling on the mullahs and Ahmadinejad only to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons. There is nothing about terrorism. And the overture is surely futile. Russia and China have exhibited no stomach for meaningful penalties if the blandishments fail to do the trick. Quite apart from that, though, why would Iran accede to demands when its intransigence has already resulted in the abandonment of what was purported to be a foundational tenet of U.S. foreign policy during the war on terror?
Specifically, the proposal “reaffirm[s] Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] obligations[,]” and suggests supporting that “right” with various forms of assistance — light water reactors, spent fuel management, and “a substantive package of research and development co-operation,” among other things.
Remarkably, it would make verification of what would be Iran’s reciprocal obligations to end enrichment activity and other nuclear-weapons development totally dependent on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For a sense of what a fabulous arrangement that would be, this story from Die Welt is instructive. It recounts how the Iranian regime systematically obstructs inspectors from performing their work. More significantly, it reports that IAEA’s leader, Mohammed El-Baradei, who is notoriously hostile to the Bush administration, bowed to Iran’s demand that the chief IAEA inspector in Iran be forced out. (Not surprisingly, the IAEA is said to have attempted to suppress publication of the story.)
Defenders of the proposal, of course, would claim the threat of an Iranian nuke is so potentially destabilizing it justifies crafting a narrow agreement, focused on nuclear power — even if it is painful to sell out counterterrorism and reduce the Bush Doctrine’s no-negotiations stance to empty rhetoric. But this proposal is not narrowed to nuclear power. It overflows with pot-sweeteners utterly unrelated to atomic energy. For example, the U.S. and its partners are reported to have called for:
‐ “Support for a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.”
‐ “Improving Iran’s access to the international economy, markets and capital, through practical support for full integration into international structures, including the WTO, and to create the framework for increased direct investment in Iran and trade with Iran….”
‐ “Civil aviation cooperation, including the possible removal of restrictions on US and European manufacturers, from exporting civil aircraft to Iran, thereby widening the prospect of Iran renewing its fleet of civil airlines.”
‐ “Establishment of a long-term energy partnership between Iran and the EU and other willing partners, with concrete and practical applications.”
‐ “Support for the modernisation of Iran’s telecommunication infrastructure and advanced internet provision, including by possible removal of relevant US and other export restrictions.”
‐ “Co-operation in fields of high technology and other areas to be agreed.”
‐ “Support for agricultural development in Iran, including possible access to US and European agricultural products, technology and farm equipment.”
The only thing not on the table here is terrorism. That, after all, might upset the Iranians. Mustn’t do that. So basically, it’s: Here are valuable concessions we’ll give you if you’ll just tell us you’re going to stop trying to build nukes and let the ever-dependable IAEA police the arrangement. On Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Iraqi insurgency: No action required.
Of course, the underlying logic of the Bush Doctrine was that rewarding terrorists and their rogue state benefactors with negotiations and concessions inevitably encourages more of their barbarism. Firmness is the only language they understand. As top terror recipients of Iran’s largesse wage war with Israel, it’s worth asking whether we’ve forgotten that.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.