The federal government is still shut down as I write this and will most likely still be shut down when you read this. Not having thought of anything particularly new or clever to call Congress since last week, I thought it might be better instead to focus about a government that is not shut down.
One of many members on this list is Iran, whose president, Hassan Rouhani, recently concluded the first phone call with an American leader in three decades and gave a speech to the United Nations in which he signaled possible new willingness to talk over his country’s nuclear program.
He also joined the bizarre trend of antagonistic world leaders submitting op-eds to major American newspapers, writing in the Washington Post of his hopes for a new policy of constructive engagement. “A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss,” he said, which is a positive sign in a region known for applying this exact sort of mentality to problems.
So should we buy it? No, but nor do we necessarily have to.
The eternal problem of judging Iranian behavior is that while Iran’s president is the regime’s most public face, he isn’t the one making policy. The Iranian governmental structure is breathtakingly Byzantine but at its core is based on the rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
His comments on the matter are fascinating. In a speech on Iranian television, sorting through the usual conspiratorial nonsense “[America is] a government captured by the international Zionism network”), he expressed faith in his president and gave limited support to his president’s new diplomatic outreach.
This would seem to suggest that Rouhani has been given some leeway to negotiate. We shouldn’t pass this up.
Positive gestures from the Islamic Republic don’t come around all that often, and if we reject this one it’s hard to say how long we’ll have to wait for the next one. Very possibly it would come from a government in Tehran with firm possession of the Bomb.
It is entirely possible, in fact, even very likely, that they are adopting this new stance just because they want some sanctions removed. We shouldn’t let that overly worry us. After all, why were the sanctions put in place to begin with if not to force them to come to the negotiating table?
We don’t need them to become sincere believers in nuclear non-proliferation. We just need them to agree to stop trying to develop nuclear weapons. How exactly we get there, short of war, is less than important to me.
The sanctions are certainly biting hard. Inflation is running at well over 40 percent and shortages of basic goods are becoming standard. Now, in the midst of their economic free-fall, is the time to push them for lasting concessions.
This is still the same regime that is supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria and deploying terrorist cells across the world. We can’t forget that, but that does not mean that we cannot strike a deal that will be in the best interests of us both.
It could all turn out to be an elaborate ploy to distract us. Iran may not have the slightest intention of actually agreeing to anything.
But better to take a risk at peace and fail than sit wallowing in cynicism and never take a chance at all.