Wednesday, May 20, 2009


“Now, understand that part of the reason that it’s so important for us to take a diplomatic approach [toward Iran] is that the approach that we’ve been taking, which is no diplomacy, obviously has not worked. Nobody disagrees with that.” Mr. Obama then added a few illustrations to bolster his case:

“Hamas and Hezbollah have gotten stronger. Iran has been pursuing its nuclear capabilities undiminished. And so, not talking, that clearly hasn’t worked. That’s what’s been tried. And so what we’re going to do is try something which is actually engaging and reaching out to the Iranians.”

Let’s assume for an instant that the people briefing Mr. Obama on Iran haven’t read the files that the George W. Bush administration turned over to them about the previous eight years of diplomacy and outreach toward Tehran. But you don’t need to have access to classified information to figure this one out: A simple Google search will suffice.

U.S. government officials at the ambassador level or above met publicly no fewer than 28 times with their Iranian counterparts during the Bush administration, according to published accounts. So Mr. Obama’s briefers either were Internet-challenged, lazy or just out-and-out dishonest.

The U.S.-Iran meetings began in November 2001. The last meeting, held in Geneva on July 19, 2008, was conducted by Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, a career bureaucrat who was held over in the same job by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Burns presumably will be involved in the next round of talks. If anyone could have enlightened the president of his error, it was Mr. Burns.

The notion that the Bush administration “never talked to Iran” is the founding myth of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy. Mr. Obama repeated it at every occasion during the campaign and has repeated it since. It is patently false.

Another key myth used by the pro-Iran lobby and the president’s supporters is that the Iranian regime offered a “grand bargain” to the United States in May 2003, which Bush administration neoconservatives rejected out of ideological zeal.

This myth has been propagated by a former National Security Council analyst, Flynt Leverett, who claims he was personally involved in the exchange.

But Mr. Leverett’s claims about the authenticity of the Iranian offer were debunked once and for all by then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - whom no one has accused of being a closet neoconservative.

In a July 2007 interview with PBS’ “Frontline,” Mr. Armitage said he was advised by career diplomats in the State Department’s Near East bureau that the Swiss ambassador who had conveyed the supposed Iranian offer “had perhaps added a little bit to it, because it wasn’t in consonance with the state of our relations.”

The Swiss ambassador’s fax didn’t jibe with more detailed negotiating position papers that had been given directly to senior U.S. officials by their Iranian counterparts, Mr. Armitage said.

“The Swiss ambassador in Tehran was so intent … on bettering relations between … the United States and Iran that we came to have some questions about where the Iranian message ended and the Swiss message may begin,” Mr. Armitage said. That is a diplomatic way of saying the purported May 2003 offer by Iran was determined by the State Department Near East bureau to be a forgery.

The Obamaland myth of “no diplomacy” with Iran has been debunked by our European allies as well.

In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered a “grand bargain” to Iran in coordination with the three major powers of the European Union - the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The Iranians were to get security guarantees, recognition and renewed trade - including civilian nuclear technology - in exchange for a suspension of their uranium enrichment work. After much stalling, the Iranian regime dismissed the U.S.-European offer as “propaganda.”

A senior adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a forum at the Brookings Institution just weeks before November’s election that the United States would be foolish to continue nuclear talks with Iran.

“We’ve been negotiating with the Iranians since 2003, five years,” said Therese Delpech. “We came to the conclusion that they are not interested at all in negotiating, but in buying time for their military [nuclear] program.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin put the most attractive offer before the Islamic Republic’s leaders during his October 2007 summit meetings in Tehran. He offered the regime all it apparently wanted - and more. And yet, still it refused, according to Iranian and U.S. government sources.

We’ve repeatedly tried diplomacy with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For reasons that are hard to understand, Mr. Obama does not appear to be aware of this record. By the time he climbs out of the rabbit hole into which he has fallen, Iran very well could become a nuclear weapons state.

Kenneth R. Timmerman’s latest book on Iran, “Honor Killing,” is available at

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