Bush Rejects ISG Call For Iran Talks
In a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush rejected the Iraq Study Group’s call of direct talks with Iran without preconditions. Stating that there is a way for Iran to begin engaging the United States diplomatically, the President reaffirmed “that if they would like to engage the United States, that they’ve got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program.” Iran is currently engaging the United States and Britain militarily through its Iraqi proxies, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades.
The Iraq Study Group Report recommended that “the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues.” It suggested various incentives, including admission of Iran into the WTO, which presumes other WTO members would agree. Of the six incentives suggested, three of them were termed as “prospects,” including the “prospect of a U.S. policy that emphasizes political and economic reforms instead of advocating regime change,” the “prospects for enhanced diplomatic relations with the United States,” and the “prospects for a real, complete, and secure peace to be negotiated between Israel and Syria, with U.S. involvement.”
Hinting at preconditions beyond the nuclear issue, President Bush said plainly, “If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it’s easy. Just make some decisions that’ll lead to peace, not to conflict.” The US administration’s position was summed up concisely adding, “And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”
A group of British Parliament ministers also spoke against talks with Iran. Lord Corbett, the chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, employed an even greater economy of words. Regarding the called-for Iran talks, he said, “The golden rule is… don’t talk to terrorists.”
But Co-Chairman of the Iraq Study Group James Baker said today that President Bush authorized him to approach the Iranians to evaluate their interest in talks with the United States. He said, “And they, in effect, said, ‘we would not be inclined to help you this time around.’” Senator Joe Lieberman said that he was skeptical of Iran’s desire to actually help America in Iraq, saying, “They are, after all, supporting Hizballah, which gathers people in the square in Beirut to shout ‘Death to America.’” Senator John McCain added, “I don’t believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain.”
Perhaps the most salient observation regarding the productive prospects of negotiating with Iran comes from the Iraq Study Group Report itself, which quotes (pg. 25) an Iraqi politician telling them, “Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad.”