In a Reuters Op-ed last week, we held that simply expressing an interest in “talking” to Tehran would not be enough for the Obama administration to launch successful diplomacy with Iran. The essential ingredient, we argued, is American “acceptance” of the Islamic Republic as “a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests”—just as President Richard Nixon’s acceptance of the People’s Republic of China enabled the realignment of U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s.
Subsequent events have demonstrated the accuracy of our analysis. On February 2, Vice President Biden said that the Obama administration was open to direct, bilateral negotiations with Iran, if “the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader, is serious.” We warned then that:
“This formulation completely obscures how it is the Obama administration, not Ayatollah Khamenei, that has not been diplomatically serious. That’s because the Obama administration remains unwilling to detach itself from the neo-imperial strategy in the Middle East that it inherited from its predecessors.”
Four days later, on February 6, new U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, recently signed into law by President Obama, went into effect. And today—as should have been expected—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei responded, saying that “Iran will never accept to negotiate with he who threatens us with pressure. The offer of talks is meaningful when the other side shows goodwill.”
As we noted in our Reuters Op-ed, the Obama Administration’s current strategy—“negotiating on terms that could not possibly interest Iran while escalating covert operations, cyber attacks, and economic warfare against it”—will not work. Indeed, it puts the United States on a trajectory toward yet another, even more self-damaging war in the Middle East.
In our new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, we lay out what serious U.S. diplomacy would look like—and why it is imperative for American interests that the United States pursue “Nixon-to-China”-like rapprochement with Tehran. As he moves into his second term, President Obama is apparently no more inclined to formulate and implement a reality-based Iran policy than he was during his first term.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett