Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The messages we send as the world’s sole superpower matter. Today, Iran’s leaders are testing us. They are testing us in Iraq, where Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) networks continue to fund both Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. They are testing us at the International Atomic Energy Agency and at the United Nations, where they continue to defy demands by the international community to verifiably suspend their nuclear programs, which constitute a clear violation of Iran’s commitments as a signatory of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

How we respond to these tests is not an academic question. Understanding the intentions and the modus operandi of this regime are life-and-death matters.

Voices are raised from all sides of the U.S. political spectrum that we should swallow our pride and negotiate with Tehran’s leaders if we want to avoid war. They call it, “a grand bargain.” Whether it’s proposed by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Baker-Hamilton commission, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, or various Iranian-American quislings, the outlines are virtually identical. The United States should accept Iranian offers to negotiate “all outstanding issues” generated by the regime’s bad behavior. In exchange, we should provide “security guarantees” that include a steadfast promise to abandon all efforts to help Iran’s people achieve freedom.

The very terms of the bargain should be a tip-off. The one thing Iran’s regime really wants from us is a guarantee we won’t support pro-democracy forces inside Iran.

Proponents of negotiations with Tehran argue that we negotiated with the Soviet Union during the Cold War while never compromising on our principled rejection of Soviet communism and its brutal suppression of freedoms at home and in occupied Eastern Europe. But the Islamic Republic of Iran is fundamentally unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War for a host of reasons.

First and foremost, they do not have an arsenal of 10,000-plus nuclear weapons. Soviet dissidents and refuseniks understood the U.S. would engage in arms control talks with the Soviet leadership as a matter of self-preservation and that such talks in no way implied our acceptance (except for Jimmy Carter) of Soviet dictatorship.

Soviet dissidents understood the weaknesses of the Soviet state but also understood the dangers of a nuclear exchange with the United States.

Iranian dissidents, however, view the Islamic Republic as weak. They see the incompetence of its leaders, the fragility of its economy, its isolation on the world stage, and its military vulnerabilities. Why should a superpower bow before the mullahs and dignify such a weak adversary with full-fledged negotiations?

Opening negotiations with the United States may be the key strategic goal today of the government in Tehran. The ruling clerics are confident they can humiliate any American president who agrees to talk with them. They will drag out such talks endlessly, to demonstrate to the pro-freedom movement that “America can do nothing” and more importantly, will do nothing to help them.

Beyond this, we simply don’t need negotiations with the regime over its nuclear program. Through U.N. Security Council resolutions, we have set out the parameters of what the Iranian regime must do to avert steadily increasing international sanctions. They can accept those conditions, shut down their programs in a verifiable manner, or suffer the consequences. The U.S. should not settle for anything less than full, unconditional compliance from Tehran. There is nothing to negotiate.

The same goes for Iran’s involvement in Iraq, its support for international terrorist groups, its refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist, and its wretched disregard for its own citizens’ political and human rights. Why should we negotiate down the standards of internationally acceptable behavior?

On the contrary, we should hold Iran’s leadership accountable for its behavior by rolling up its networks in Iraq and striking the IRGC support structures across the border. We should insist Iran comply with the International Covenant of Political and Human rights that it has signed. We should enforce the huge number of judgments against top regime leaders in courts around the world for their terrorist attacks.

And for starters, we should insist that Iran comply with the U.N. Security Council demands on its nuclear programs by ratcheting up mandatory economic and diplomatic sanctions. Anything less is just not serious.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of the Middle East Data Project Inc., executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran and author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.”

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