Proudly presenting the original English version of an article by Jeffrey Gedmin, published Dec. 13, 2006, in WELT: "Iran - Es fehlt ein kleines bißchen Realismus".
Talk Syria and Iran?
By Jeffrey Gedmin
Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), the chairman of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, has told the Tagesspiegel the U.S needs to talk to Syria and Iran. The Tagesspiegel got so excited it ran as a front page headline the quote, "Bush needs to swallow his pride." Polenz knows better. The United States talks to Syria. Washington has probed conversations with Iran. The issue is not whether we talk, but rather what we negotiate with these regimes.
It is no surprise that publication of the Iraq Study Group report, an effort led by former Secretary of State James Baker, would inspire the enthusiasts of interest-driven Realpolitik, apparently both on the Right and the Left.
We all agree that Syria and Iran help to promote the terrorism in Iraq. We should agree, amidst all the chatter about "constructive dialogue" with Syria and Iran, that in Europe economic interests play an especially important role in shaping foreign policy choices. Germany has a special stake in the case of Iran, for example. We can agree that talking with adversaries is not an unreasonable thing to do. We talked with the Soviet Union.
What I am still missing from the so-called realists here is the slightest bit of realism. What do we want? Stability in Iraq, moderate government in Baghdad, and a country that lives in peace with its neighbours, Israel included. What do Syria and Iran want? The Syrians want a) an end to the UN investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harriri b) Lebanon as a sphere of
influence c) no more meddling over human rights d) no more hassle about support for Hamas and Hezbollah and e) Israel's return of the Golan Heights. What does Iran want? a) An end to pressure over its nuclear program b) Iraq as a sphere of influence c) no more meddling over human rights d) no more hassle over Teheran's support for terrorism and e) Israel wiped off the map.
Let's stipulate for a moment that a nuclear Iran may not actually attack Israel. Everyone acknowledges at a minimum that the Iranian bomb will inspire more terrorism, trigger a dangerous arms race and drive oil prices through the roof. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad frequently threatens with a drastic increase of oil prices. Let's say we actually reach some sort of agreement with Damascus and Teheran on other issues. How would we ever get these regimes to comply?
I have a friend who recently got himself accredited and was allowed to attend a trial in Syria. The authorities apparently permit these site visits to show the world that Damascus is an ally in the war on terror. In the middle of these particular proceedings, though, the defendant lost control and shouted at the judge, "How can you convict me of terrorism? I was trained by our people in camps in our country!" The Syrians and Iranians lie and cheat just a bit.
I'm not averse to sitting down with criminals. While we negotiated with the Soviet Union, though, we also invested in SDI, supported Solidarnosc and tied trade to human rights. The Baker Group was apparently encouraged by the fact that Iran participated in UN talks over Afghanistan in the early 1990s. But at the time Iran had a self interest in checking the power of a Sunni radical group under the Taliban.
It is simply hard to fathom what leverage we have at this moment to convince Iran and Syria to pull George W. Bush's chestnuts out of the fire. One more thing. If we do end up "talking," let's at least ask real realists to lead the negotiations. I suggest Otto Schily as EU special envoy. For the U.S. side, UN Ambassador John Bolton needs a new job.