- - Tuesday, May 5, 2015


President Obama and his negotiators talking to Iran frighten the rest of us not only for what they’re willing to accept as a deal, but for the way they negotiate. They clearly don’t understand how to negotiate with rogues.

The president and his negotiators begin by setting out an ideal resolution of differences, and the mullahs knock it down, saying their demands are not negotiable. Such a negotiating strategy affronts common sense — no competent negotiator begins by acknowledging the opposition’s “red lines.” He starts by asking for the ideal that he knows, but does not say, will not be the final agreement. There will be time and argument sufficient for whittling down demands.

Negotiating with a rogue state requires a different strategy, beginning with a clear understanding of the character and motives of the men sitting across the table, and negotiations with the mullahs require discussions about the other sins, atrocities and distractions of Iran. Nor does a skillful negotiator publicly and repeatedly insist that he is negotiating for only one thing, because the crimes and demands of the mullahs are all connected. Discussion of Iran’s support for infiltration and terrorism in many places, some of them as far distant from Tehran as Argentina, must be part of the negotiations.

Iran’s successful acquisition of missiles — aiming to obtain an intercontinental ballistic weapon that could reach the United States — is as important as talking about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The delivery of a nuclear weapon is crucial because a bomb is hardly likely to be hand-carried to the target.

The Bashar Assad regime in Damascus, which has killed 200,000 of its own and doomed further hundreds of thousands to the miserable life of a refugee, survives as a government only with the assistance of Iran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the vicious forward flank of the regime, is now fighting in Syria. Aid and weapons to Hezbollah, the Shia terrorists in Lebanon, is part and parcel of the mullahs’ game. Hezbollah has breached the Shia-Sunni divide to become a major source of arms for Hamas in Gaza, which the United States and its allies in Europe have identified as terrorists. Tehran supports guerrilla groups in the Sinai, defying President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s effort to regain control. It was Tehran’s aid and weapons which helped the Houthi tribes in Yemen to overthrow the government, and only an American feint prevented Iran from supplying the rebels with heavy weapons.

Perhaps the Obama administration thinks a nuclear “compromise,” one that would enable the mullahs to break out in their pursuit of the bomb in a few months’ time, would be a step toward further agreements. But that assumes an agreement to enable the necessarily intrusive inspections by the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency, which the mullahs have never allowed in the past and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says will never be allowed in future. Mr. Obama and his negotiators insist that the ayatollah doesn’t really mean it, that he’s only talking to the Iranian masses, but who’s giving that assurance, and why should anyone in the West believe it?

The French, as they always do, have the words for this — deformation professionnelle, the professional distortion, acting from professional experience at whatever the cost: Surgeons are quick to cut, lawyers to litigate, and diplomats to negotiate, often after they have lost sight of their original goal. Mr. Obama and his negotiators have fallen into that trap.

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