Time To Talk Detente With Tehran

By Oren Rawls

Published July 28, 2006, issue of July 28, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Fact is, Iran is sitting in a rather good position right now, and we did a whole lot to put it there.

We took the Taliban off of Iran’s eastern border, then got rid of Saddam Hussein to its west. Whether we were justified in doing so is beside the point: We gave Tehran the opportunity to cause us trouble without leaving its own back yard, and the opportunity has most certainly been seized.

The troubles the Islamic Republic has been able to cause us extend far beyond its borders. Iran’s fingerprints are to be found in Israel’s spiraling two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza — and again, it has been our actions that have allowed Tehran’s long arm to reach across the Middle East.

We haven’t been willing, justifiably or not, to talk to either Hezbollah or Hamas, while Iran has been only too happy to oblige. Now that Syria is out of Lebanon and Israel out of Gaza — both moves we strongly applauded — Islamist gunmen wield a veto over stabilizing the situation, and their ears are pointed toward Tehran, not Washington.

In short, we’ve backed ourselves into Iran’s corner, and it’s about time we admitted as much.

How we get out of this mess, I’m not quite sure. I don’t pretend to know the true intentions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei, or whoever else is in charge in Tehran. At this point, though, we’ve left ourselves little choice but to figure out on what terms Iran would be willing to settle matters.

Capitulation to violence, some might say, is a reward for terrorism. And they just might be right. But so far our actions, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our inaction, in Lebanon and Gaza, have effectively accomplished the same thing, so it is a bit disingenuous to argue that negotiating a settlement is somehow of more benefit to the enemy.

Besides, there are several compelling reasons for sitting down with Tehran. The Islamic Republic considers both Al Qaeda and the Taliban to be terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is slaughtering American troops in Iraq, and the Taliban are increasingly menacing our forces in Afghanistan. The proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” may be Arab in origin, but in a region where no score is ever left unsettled, there’s no reason the adage can’t be translated into Farsi.

Then there’s oil, which Tehran happens to have oodles of. Iran claims to have the second-largest proven oil and gas reserves in the world, and there’s the potential for much more once technological limitations are removed. In the long run we’re clearly better off not being reliant on Middle Eastern countries for our energy, but in the short run we could do worse than diversify our sources.

Will the prospect of economic ties with the United States be enough to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions? Till now Iran hasn’t bitten.

So next time we and the Europeans sit down to negotiate with Iran, how about we ask Tehran not just what it’ll take for it to give up the quest for nukes, but also what it’ll take for Iran to stay out of our geopolitical hair. Sure, Ahmadinejad will likely rant and rave with outrageous demands, but he’s not the guy that Khamenei’s actually been sending to negotiations in Vienna.

That would be Ali Larijani, who heads Iran’s powerful National Security Council. Whether he’s got the willingness and the power to strike a grand bargain remains to be seen. But there are indications that he might be someone we could work with.

Larijani reportedly backs the idea of Iran disengaging from activities against Israel in exchange for recognition of Tehran’s sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf and an end to Iran’s international isolation.

Few issues are as touchy in the Muslim world as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so it stands to reason that if Iran can adopt a pragmatic position on the Jewish state, dealing with our other entanglements — Iraq foremost among them — just might be doable.

To date, the guns-or-butter approach hasn’t made Iran any less of a threat to our interests. So we can foolishly continue to bang our heads on the same wall, in the naive hope that it will fall over, or we can acknowledge that our bargaining power over Iran is less than it was several years ago, and recalibrate our position accordingly.

Iran is a regional hegemon, and needs to be addressed as such. Particularly now, with the Middle East spinning violently out of control, we need to explore every possibility for detente — and we need not worry that our guns will rust in the meantime.

Oren Rawls is opinion editor and European bureau chief of the Forward.






Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.