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Iran, Try Peace or Get War

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 24, 2013
Daily Beast


Most of Washington's closest allies in the Mideast don't want any testing; they just want to reject everything emanating from Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani and demand Tehran's capitulation.

This fight against testing Iran's intentions is dumb and dangerous. It's dumb because no one can possibly know just how much the new Tehran government is willing to compromise if we don't test them. Second, it's dangerous because without trying serious give-and-take diplomacy, the United States and Israel will be back on the track to war with Iran, and soon.

But Mr. Obama has got to test himself as well and put some smart compromises on the table to jumpstart serious negotiations. According to administration officials, however, he hasn't gotten close to this approach yet.

To this point, he's exchanged nice letters with Iran's new, reform-minded Mr. Rouhani and plans on at least smiling at him in United Nations corridors. Mr. Obama's pledge today at the U.N. to pursue new diplomacy through the P5+1 is a good start, but not nearly enough.

To see what compromises Iran's leader might make, Mr. Obama has to figure out what compromises the U.S. can safely offer. If Mr. Obama simply repeats America's long-standing demands for Tehran's across-the-board capitulation, Mr. Rouhani will respond in kind. So, the U.S. side has to offer viable proposals, i.e. ones that have a chance at eliciting a positive Iranian response—proposals that take Iran's legitimate interests into account as well as America's.

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