This administration is much more deft, flexible, and practical than its many detractors seem capable of conceptualizing, let alone admitting. First, the “transform the Middle East” via the door of Iraq is yielding — it seems to me — undeniable positive results: the people of Lebanon just peacefully overthrew their Syrian puppet regime, Egypt is making democratic noises, Isreal and the Palestinians appear to have turned a corner (with Isreal showing great restraint despite the suicide bombing, which they blame on Syria, over the weekend).
But perhaps even more noteworthy in terms of flexibility and pragmatism are the administration’s recent reconciliation with Europe and the word now being leaked that Washington is willing to back Europe’s offers of enticements to Iran to forego nuclear weapon development:
- The Bush administration is close to a decision to join Europe in offering incentives to Iran — possibly including eventual membership in the World Trade Organization — in exchange for Tehran’s formal agreement to surrender any plans to develop a nuclear weapon, according to senior U.S. officials.
….”The reason we’re comfortable considering this tactically is because strategically, when the president was in Europe, he found them solid on the big issue: that Iran can’t have a nuclear weapon. Having found them firm on the strategic issue, he’s more willing to consider the tactical aspects with the Europeans — including how do we work with them and what can the Europeans offer that we would be part of it,” said a senior State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy.
….”The meetings in Europe were really good, not just atmospherics,” said a second senior administration official who requested anonymity. “We are past the point of grousing about the process or each other and we’re now grappling with the issues: how to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and how to deal with its behavior.”
….In talks after Bush’s reelection late last year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pressed Bush to join or endorse the European approach, according to U.S. and European sources.
“He said, ‘Even if you stand apart, take an approach that is seen as reinforcing what we’re doing, give the impression that you’re empowering us,’ ” said another U.S. official familiar with the talks.
The biggest selling point, he added, was the argument that charting a common course would help the United States: If talks with Iran fail, Washington would not be seen as the outside player that ruined the effort. There would also then be more options to stand together in punitive steps against Iran, including going to the U.N. Security Council — a move the United States has long sought.
….The incentives under active consideration are also not major concessions, U.S. and European officials note. “The kind of [economic and political] changes required for membership in the World Trade Organization are very much what we’d want to see anyway,” the State Department official said. “So it’s not giving Iran something. It’s making clear this could lead to that, if they comply.”
….”We’re profoundly skeptical that Iran is going to do anything, but we do want to do whatever we can do to help the Europeans succeed,” the State Department official said.
….The United States is also considering the European suggestion to facilitate Iran’s access to spare airplane parts for its aging passenger fleet as well as other unspecified proposals, U.S. and European officials say. The senior administration official said the White House is still working out the “right mix” and timing of incentives.
The White House discussion about incentives signals a willingness in principle to engage with Iran after a quarter century of diplomatic hostility. [Washington Post]
This sounds to me like an administration that is concerned with getting things done and making progress rather than adhering to blind ideology: bluster and confrontation when appropriate, cooperation and negotiation when the opportunity arises.