Negotiating With Iran

Yesterday there was a development on the foreign policy front that I found interesting and I thought I might throw it open for discussion here. During a gathering of NATO foreign ministers Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that Iran be invited to a high-level conference on Afghanistan to be held later this month:

BRUSSELS, March 5 — In the Obama administration’s first specific overture to Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the Islamic republic should be invited to a high-level conference on Afghanistan later this month being organized under U.S. auspices.

The meeting would offer Clinton her first face-to-face encounter with her Iranian counterpart, even as the administration confronts Iran over its links to terrorist groups and its nuclear program. Throughout her tour of the Middle East and Europe this week, Clinton has mixed tough talk about Iranian behavior with expressions of hope that areas of cooperation can be found, frequently citing Afghanistan.

I see this as a wholly advantageous move but I’d be happy to hear counter-arguments.

I don’t believe that war with Iran is in U. S. interests: unless you advocate a war with, essentially, exterminatory levels of force, we can’t achieve the objectives we’d like to see and are more than likely to bolster the domestic support for the current regime. We’ve put in place about as much in the way of a sanctions regime against Iran as we’re likely to get without a lot more cooperation from Russia than we’ve seen recently on the subject.

That means that diplomacy is one of the very few remaining tools at hand for resolving any of the many concerns we have about Iran.

The U. S. and Iranian interests in Afghanistan are largely congruent: neither one of us want to see the Taliban return to power there. There’s been quiet cooperation between the United States and Iran with respect to Afghanistan in the recent past:

In the lead-up to the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the United States and Iran were involved in back-channel discussions over ways in which the Iranians could use their influence to facilitate the invasion and help topple the Taliban. After all, Iran — a Persian and Shiite power — is enormously threatened by the empowerment of hard-line Sunni extremists across its eastern frontier, and has actively supported the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban’s rise. Similarly, the Iranians were enormously threatened by Saddam Hussein’s hostile Sunni regime to Iran’s west. So after 9/11, Iran had an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: It could act as enabler for a U.S. invasion in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime, and could use its Shiite allies in Iraq to facilitate the U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple Hussein. Though these U.S.-Iranian back-channel communications over Afghanistan and Iraq were kept quiet, they did end up setting a precedent for cooperation between Washington and Tehran.

Afghanistan expert Elizabeth Rubin has pointed out that, despite Iran’s more recent cooperation with the Taliban, “in the big picture the Iranians do not want the Taliban back.” Former Afghan diplomat Mazood Aziz has commented:

“Iran is going to be one of the key pillars of our strategy which is going to help resolve this issue. Iran has the potential to be extremely helpful.” But he adds: “Discussions and talks are one thing; how to go about implementing cooperation [with Iran] is another.”

I’ve been skeptical about the Obama Administration’s willingness to pre-concede things that I think would better serve as bargaining chips merely to get parties to come to the bargaining table as I was critical of the Bush Administration on the same grounds. So, for example, I share my friend Mark Safranski’s concern about the speed with which the Obama Administration has offered reconstruction aid to the Palestinians and their willingness to scrap missile defense plans in Eastern Europe.

An invitation to Tehran to participate in a high-level meeting on Afghanistan constitutes an extremely minor concession if any at all and in my view it’s best to begin negotiations with matters on which both parties have substantial agreement.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    The U. S. and Iranian interests in Afghanistan are largely congruent: neither one of us want to see the Taliban return to power there.

    I disagree. The U.S. and Iran share some interests, but Iran also has an interest in maintaining a certain level of anti-Americanism to flame its revolutionary base. It also has an interest in a weak Afghan government to allow itself to exercise hegonomy over Herat and nearby.

    That is, Iran’s interests are optimized by a weak Aghanistan government, continuing loss of blood and treasure by the Americans, so long as the Taliban does not regain control. So far Iran is doing pretty good without talks.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s only right if you think those are the alternatives. If you think the U. S. is more likely to cut its losses rather than stay in Afghanistan forever, “continuing loss of blood and treasure by the Americans” isn’t in the equation.

  3. Triumph says:

    I don’t trust the Hillary-B. Hussein crowd to negotiate with Iran.

    Remember, B. Hussein is a Moslem, schooled in Madrassas and maintains allegiances with the Moselem dictator of his home country of Kenya–the notorious Adewale Ogunleye.

    They are presenting this as a “minor” concession; but it is really a trojan horse to sell out American freedoms to the global Mullah-cracy.

    If we talk with them now, it will put us on a quick path to Shariah law in America.

    It is similar to the gay marriage issue. If we allow the gays to marry, the next thing we’ll have is people wanting to marry animals.

    If we have any conversation with radical Moslem regimes, the next thing you know we’ll all be talking Arabic, our men will be wearing dresses, and we’ll be laying down on the ground 5 times a day to pray to the satanic deities in Mecca.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Dave, I don’t think there are any reasonable alternatives in play in the near and immediate term that would change the calculation. The U.S. can’t reasonably suggest withdrawal is on the table. In the long run, Iran will have enhanced its national security options with the bomb and in Herat.

    But what is the goal here? Does Iran offer significant new capabilities in Afghanistan? Doubtful. Or more specifically, none that it wouldn’t perform anyway. Or is this just a random issue selected for trust building exercises. I think the evidence is pretty clear that Iran (Khamenei) doesn’t want to normalize relationships with the U.S.

  5. SoloD says:


    I’m confused, I though we settled in November that we would become a Muslim nation. I think the plan will be rolled out later this month.

    I for one embrace our new overlords!

  6. Triumph says:

    I’m confused, I though we settled in November that we would become a Muslim nation. I think the plan will be rolled out later this month.

    No need to be confused. I think the topic of the Shoe’s post here is indicative of the creeping nature of the plan.

    To be prepared, I would suggest practicing your “Allah ‘u Akbah’s” now.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Here’s some thoughts from Triumph’s counterpart in Iran a few months ago:

    “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s differences with America are beyond political differences and [are] more fundamental than that.” He urged Iranians to read the documents seized by students from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran twenty-nine years ago, saying that “the goals of Americans are to deprive Iran of its independence and dignity, cause it to regret the Islamic Revolution, and make it again dependent on and obedient to America.” The supreme leader added, “The hatred and abhorrence of Iran’s nation toward America is deep.”

    “Supreme Leader”

  8. PD Shaw says:

    But what is the goal here?

    Besides the two I mentioned, there is a third suggested by Clinton herself. It is “doubtful” that Iran will participate, thus permitting Iran to further isolate itself and make it easier to seek assistance from Europe and Russia in increasing sanctions.

  9. steve s says:

    Iran should be pretty pleased with us. Our misadventure in Iraq made them much more powerful in the region. They’re Coca-Cola and we just set fire to the Pepsi building.