U.S. Officials Wisely Begin Dialogue with Iran
DANIEL SCHORR: Iran, the third on President Bush's axis of evil list after Iraq and North Korea, has become one of his greatest dilemmas.
ANDREW SEABROOK, host:
NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
SCHORR: Iran is regarded as a potential assist in calming down the Shiites of Iraq. But Iran is also on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism and is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for the annihilation of Israel.
And so it was an interesting day at the White House last Monday when the president had separate meetings with James Baker, chairman of the Iraq Study Group, and with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mr. Bush came out of his meeting with the Israeli prime minister saying that he recognizes the threat to world peace that Iran represents. Baker came out of his meeting saying not very much, but he was quoted by sources as believing the United States should not cut off dialogue with its adversaries. Iran hasn't said much either, but Iranian diplomats have been quoted as saying you don't negotiate with someone who wants to overthrow you.
The U.S. isn't in the regime-change business anymore, but there is no telling what the U.S. would do if it learned that an Iranian nuclear weapon had reached the stage of presenting a real threat.
So what do you do with an enemy that could be a useful ally? Well, one thing you do is to keep in touch through what are called back channels; that is, quiet, unofficial channels.
Baker, because he heads a congressionally mandated commission, can claim not to speak for the administration. So on at least one occasion, Baker went to New York to have a secret, three-hour dinner with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif. Baker came away with the impression that Iran wants the Iraqi conflict to calm down. What further contacts there may have been I don't know, but I'll bet there have been some and will be some more. This is Daniel Schorr.
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