Condi's Turn, To Diplomacy

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Condi in Vienna this week talking about Iran [Josie Duckett / State Department]

Dick Cheney’s fantasy war with Iran (“Real men want to go to Tehran,” was the line three years ago) has been postponed, maybe shelved. Condi Rice has taken charge with her readiness to engage Iran with European cover on the matter of nuclear development. A change in the Washington weather is palpable. Reality-based thinking, Congress and foreign allies are all being re-engaged. Diplomacy is being rediscovered. “When Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright, Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar all say: ‘you have to talk to Iran,’ well, you have to talk to Iran,” said Joe Cirincione, our non-proliferation coach at the Center for American Progress, in a phone conversation on the news. “It’s about time,” Cirincione said.

The rest is a mystery, starting with Iran’s readiness to suspend uranium enrichment and to accept a cluttered invitation. Blogger Laura Rozen of War and Piece says, “Not even the American diplomats who secretly hatched the announcement can guess the ultimate reaction from Iran,” and her best sources sound doubtful:

“I don’t think the Iranians are going to accept this,??? says Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service. “ The U.S. didn’t offer any concrete concessions. All the U.S. said is we would come to the table. We didn’t say what we would do at the table. There’s not enough in it for Iran.???

Former Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Maleki, currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Security, expressed dismay that Rice’s offer to join nuclear talks also included comments about alleged Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian interference in Iraq. “If she [Rice] had explicitly referred only to the nuclear issue, than maybe Iran should agree to talk,” he said in an interview in Washington Thursday. “But she combined it with Lebanon, Iraq, terrorism,” he added, saying those issues impinge on Iran’s sovereignty.

Laura Rozen, “Condi’s Play,” The American Prospect

In Washington as well the Bush team’s intentions are veiled, and Condi Rice’s running-room is not certain. Robert Blackwill’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal, coming from a key neo-con on the NSC staff in Bush’s first term, could be taken as Cheney growling that a war on Iran would be bad but a nuclear Iran would be worse:

The use of American military force against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would obviously carry great risk. But acquiescing in an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would be deeply dangerous for the U.S. and likeminded democracies for decades to come. It would be regarded by the entire world, friend and foe alike, as a strategic defeat for the U.S., and produce a major shift toward Iran in the balance of power in the Greater Middle East.

Robert Blackwill, “Jaw-Jaw Before War-War,” The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2006

It may well take the summer to figure the shape of the table, and the set of the jaw-jaws at it. So let’s get started.

Joseph Cirincione

Senior Associate and Director for Non-Proliferation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Author, Fool Me Twice, Foreign Policy, March 27, 2006

Stephen Kinzer

Former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times.

Author of All the Shah’s Men.

Laura Rozen

Blogger, War and Piece

Freelance contributor, American Prospect

Robert Blackwill

President, Barbour Griffith & Rogers International

Counselor, Council on Foreign Relations

Former deputy assistant to the president, deputy national security advisor for strategic planning, and presidential envoy to Iraq under President George W. Bush

U.S. Ambassador to India, 2001-2003

Farideh Farhi

Professor of political science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Author, The Iranian Nuclear Threat and U.S. Policy

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  • tbrucia

    There is an Islamic nation that already has nuclear weapons, a strong history of political instabiltity, a large fundamentalist population and a record of proliferation… and it is not Iran. It is Pakistan. It is exceedingly strange that the US government professes such concern about Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons and so little about Pakistan’s actual possession. There is more to this than meets the eye, and the diplomacy is not only between the U.S. government and the Iranian government….a lot of the negotiation seems to be between the adventuristic Executive branch of the U.S. government and those who suspect its motives. American and foreign public opionion is being courted in order to support — what? Perhaps the objective is simply to distract from the Executive branch’s incompetent performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps it is an attempt to court Israeli government favor, and perhaps it has to do with oil pricing…. It seems hard to believe it has much to do with any concern over nuclear proliferation.

  • joshua hendrickson

    I agree with Tbrucia. There’s nothing new about this; think back as recently as our support of Saddam before, during, and after his use of poison gas on the Kurds. American foreign policy has always been simple: our devils are good, their devils are bad, and angels of any stripe are evil.

  • As Ms Rice embodies the arrogance and hypocrisy of the administration it is hard to see how she can possibly succeed as a diplomat. Her strength is that she has the unimaginable power of nuclear weapons destructive capability backing up her position. That is NOT diplomacy. That is threat of extreme violence. To pretend this is diplomacy is just more hypocrisy.

  • George Fiala

    It’s hard for me to think that Rice will in the end have any better luck dealing with the Cheney crew than did Colin Powell.

  • rodanz

    Listen to Reza Pahlavi

    What is wrong with a regime change in Iran? After all this country is known for human rights violation and discrimination against minorities. I am not talking about boming Iran, but actually supporting the Iranian people to overthrow their government. This is the view of late Shah of Iran’s son, Reza Pahlavi.

    Here is a country that is a major supporter of terror in middle east. Almost all the terror in that region started after this regime took hold in 1979. They want to openly destry their neighbor.

    What’s wrong with regime change?

  • As the bumpersticker says…..

    Regime change begins at home.

  • Our history shows that we are not the right arbiter of who should be in power where. Just look at our interference in Central America during the 1980’s. We support Hussein, we supported Noriega.

    When we get involved in ‘regime’ change or maintenance in other countries, we are usually controlled by our fears – of ‘communists’ , ‘terrorists’, you name it. We don’t really think about what would be best for the people of that country in the long run. We claim humanitarian motives, but they are really self-serving. We don’t ever repair the damage we’ve done, or spend enough time in one place to insure that a functional government is underway.

    It is best if we stay out of other countries unless they ask for our help. And then we should stay in an advisor capacity. Let the UN or some non-govermental, non-State affiliated non-profit help with an internal transformation of a country.

    We aren’t entitled, simply because we have the most destructive weapons and more money, to tell everybody else what kind of governance they should have. Certainly, the world would be well served if we, and all other countries, actually paid attention to human rights abuses everywhere and found ways to stand up to the abusers and help the disempowered gain power. But it is not some universal truth that our form of government, our approach to an economy is the best. We just use that as an excuse to get what we want for ourselves.

  • davidg

    I’m disturbed that none of the participants so far has honestly acknowledged the nature of the current regime in Iran, or the challenges it poses to peace and security in the region and beyond. Comments to the effect that Iran’s mullaocracy and the Bush administration are “mirror images” of each other betray a smugness and insensitivity that have no place in a serious policy debate. And your guests refusal to acknowledge the extensive diplomatic efforts undertaken thus far by the EU Three — which have had Washington’s full support from the beginning — are also telling. Your guests all seem to assume that a diplomatic resolution is possible if only the cowboys in the White House will agree to pursue such a policy. Makes one wonder who the true realists in this debate are.

  • Demeter

    I am no lover of this administration or of Condileeza Rice, but unless you are a personal friend of the Secretary of State, I found referring to her as “Condi” during the course of the entire broadcast to be incredibly insulting and peculiarly familar. Madelyn Albright was always, Madame Secretary or Mrs. Albright. How about Ms. Rice? or Secretary Rice? What’s with the oh so inappropriate, “Condi?” I cannot imagine anyone referring to Colin Powell or any other member of the Cabinet with a first name diminutive. Even “Rummy” is formed from a last name and I have never heard him referred to in his roll as Secretary of Defense as “Rummy.” Please, cut out the diminutives and the familial. These people are doing a job for us — they are not family!

  • Calling for regime change in any county other than ones own is horrifically arrogant and violates the sovereignty of the other country. I was just fantasizing how I’d feel if some other country called for and set about implementing regime change in the United States. If it were say, China I think I’d find that quite disconcerting because I cherish my personal freedoms so much but I just realized that if it was Canada… I think I might be enthusiastic! Maybe we should start sending out requests. Maybe a coalition of Canada, Sweden, and of course, Venezuela.

  • Demeter: I agree. As much as I despise Ms. Rice and feel like strangling her everytime I hear her speak, I cringe when people call her “Condi”.

  • George Fiala

    Since regime change in Panama, the average Panamanian is no better off than under Noriega, except for the fact that US sanctions have been replaced by US business as usual. The upper class has had their incomes restored however.

    ‘Regime change’ in Panama was illegal and history has shown it to have been simply a ploy by the Bush administration to eliminate a political nuisance, with perhaps thousands of civilian deaths a byproduct.

    I would highly recommend a show on revisiting the Panama invasion… in it are all the seeds of today’s foreign policy disasters with many of the same players (Cheney, Powell, Eliot Abrams, and more).

    It’ll be interesting to see the propaganda mill return as Noriega comes due for release next year. He was simply demonized as was Hussein and Clinton since… not to say that Noriega and Hussein were angels by a long shot, but they were no Hitlers. Interesting that the administration occasionally tries to pin the Hitler tag on Hugo Chavez and on the current leader of Iran, who lucky for him has an unmemorable name for westerners…

    If anybody is a Hitler today to his people my vote goes to Mugabe in Africa, but he’s allowed to rule merrily on…. no oil or Canal or pointed remarks to American presidents or their friends.

  • scribe5

    “Calling for regime change in any county other than ones own is horrifically arrogant and violates the sovereignty of the other country.”

    I suppose this poster would have been happy not to see regime change in Germany Russia, or Italy in the 1930’s.

  • IggyG

    I suspect had Poland requested and received assistance in turning back the Germans there would have been calls for regime change. In Berlin in German.

  • rawehage


    I agree. There are more appropriate words for rice.

  • rodanz

    Regime change as suggested by Reza Pahlavi is the RIGHT of all Iranians.

    Don’t tell me “regime change starts at home”. I don’t care for the current White House, but mine is not a knee jerk bumper sticker liberal reaction.

    It’s funny, actually what Reza Pahlavi is saying is that regime change does start at home. So, let the people of Iran be empowered to create changes in their OWN country.

    The more we talk to these mullah dictators the more we give them legitimacy. Let’s sanction the government. Ban the mullahs from traveling around the world, stop their bank accounts and all the ficticious businesses they own outside Iran.

    The point is that by allowing the people of Iran – those who live in Iran – to feel that we are on their side, and by side-lining the regime we (and the rest of the free world) will be advocating a more representative government for the Iranian people.

    I am not a neocon, but the only way to stand up for human rights in Iran is to allow the people have their voice. Today these voices are stifled. If you don’t belive me starting reading some of the blogs coming out of Iran. Go to for a complete list.

    We are not doing the Iranian people any favor by allowing the regime to play this negotiation game. It is the Iranian people who suffer the most. See for more. At the end of the day the current regime is holding its citizens hostage.

  • George Fiala

    Dear Rodanz,

    You are so worried about human rights in Iran. Are you equally concerned about human rights in Iraq, Panama, Nicaragua and Grenada – 4 places in which we were directly responsible for the removal of a sovereign head of state?

    Why not start with those four countries, and once things are great for citizens of those states, then you can start worrying about the rest of the world.

    One place I would vote for humanitarian intervention would be Zimbabwe, but that’s not on our agenda for some odd reason…

  • rodanz, no one is suggesting that regime change isn’t necessary sometimes. The problem is that we think we are the arbiters of when and how it should happen. We usually don’t do anything until we have to threaten invasion. So, of course, if you let things get to the most extreme, you can justify extreme responses. The problem is that we don’t help the helpless until we think we are helping ourselves by doing so. Then, when we do, we abandon people to the mess we leave behind.

    There are peaceful ways to let citizens within a country know we support them and will pressure their destructive leaders until they no longer have control or use unacceptable methods of governance. When force feels necessary, a truly global peacekeeping force is far preferable to a war-like invasion.

    Do regimes hold their citizens hostage? Well, yes. I feel held hostage right now. I have the right to vote and the supposed freedom of speech but I cannot effect a regime change here because the regime controls too many of the mechanisms that would enlighten us as to what’s really going on. And the people with the most money are benefitting. So our system of unjust governance is not likely to change. And we’re not likely to ever give up our inimitable cache of nuclear weapons.

    So, if another country with enough firepower decides that we need regime change, is it okay for them to attack and invade us? Will you welcome them if your family members were killed along the way?

  • scribe5

    IggyG Says:

    “I suspect had Poland requested and received assistance in turning back the Germans there would have been calls for regime change. In Berlin in German.”

    The ignorance of some of these posters is astounding.

    No wonder they take the views they do.

    Hey read a book about the German invasion of Poland. It might surprise you to find out that it triggered WW2.

  • tbrucia

    This conversation has meandered into ‘regime change’ — a topic not mentioned at ‘the top’ of this page…. interesting that rodanz brought it into this discussion. If the chief executive of the American government is to be ‘The Decider’ of what regimes should be changed, here’s a list of some that have a worse history than Iran: North Korea, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Burma, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Sudan…. and I could continue. In each of these nations, the first question should be, changed to what? There’s a cynical Spanish proverb, ‘Despues del malo viene el peor’ (After the bad comes the worse) — obviously not true of that very fortunate nation. But very apropos of many other places. Change is simply change, and regime change can simply mean changing regimes. No one seems to know how to control the genie, simply how to release him from his bottle.