During Condoleezza Rice’s May 31 press conference announcing that the US would look favorably on joining the EU3 talks with Iran, Secretary Rice was at pains to point out that
This is not a grand bargain. I want to make very clear we are not talking here about what some have characterized as a grand bargain.
Listening to Rice deliver that line, I was struck by the fact that John Bolton’s remarks not 10 days before sounded an awful lot like a grand bargain:
[I]f [the Iranians] do what Libya did, the same thing will happen. The “regime stay” strategy is following the Libyan example…I’ve probably said a thousand times that the Libya example is there for both North Korea and Iran to see, and that’s all I’ve ever said and this wasn’t any different.
Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program and paid up for the Lockerbie bombing. We then removed them from the state sponsors of terror list and normalized diplomatic relations with the Khaddafi government. If that’s not a grand bargain, what is it?
Now, former NSC senior director Flynt Leverett is on the NYT op-ed page blasting his former employer. Why?
[B]y refusing to consider a “grand bargain” with Iran — that is, resolution of Washington’s concerns about Tehran’s weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in return for American security guarantees, an end to sanctions and normalization of diplomatic relations — the Bush administration is courting failure in its nuclear diplomacy and paving the way for Russia and China to win the larger strategic contest.
By continuing to reject a grand bargain with Tehran, the Bush administration has done nothing to increase the chances that Iran will accept meaningful long-term restraints on its nuclear activities. It has also done nothing to ensure that the United States wins the longer-term struggle for Iran. Such a grand bargain is precisely what is required, not only to forestall Iran’s effective nuclearization in the next three to five years, but also to position the United States for continued leadership in the Middle East for the next decade and beyond.
The calls for talks with Iran got so loud that the Bush administration could no longer ignore them. One can only hope that the same thing will happen for those of us who have been calling for a grand bargain. Otherwise, Iran may be able to use the rope-a-dope diplomacy that North Korea has used so effectively, buying the Iranians enough time to present us with a nuclear fait accompli before we can get to the bottom diplomatic line.
There’s a time to cut to the chase, and that time is now. As Ted Carpenter and I wrote in April, a grand bargain
would test the Iranian side’s faith immediately, without endless haranguing over peripheral or esoteric issues. We would determine rather quickly whether negotiations would be worth the breath.
More importantly, with a full-scale deal on the table, the Iranians would have no excuses to back away. If they refused the deal, there would be only one conclusion to draw: Tehran is irreversibly determined to develop nuclear weapons.
We don’t need to panic, but time isn’t on our side here. The worst-case estimate (.pdf) is that Iran could be three years away from a bomb, and the US intelligence consensus says 5-10 years. Still, there’s no need to drag this out indefinitely. We need to put all of our cards on the table and ask Iran what it’s holding.