Charles Krauthammer

 WASHINGTON -- All of a sudden, revolutionary Iran has offered direct talks with the United States. All of a sudden, the usual suspects -- European commentators, American liberals, dissident CIA analysts, Madeleine Albright -- are urging the administration to take the bait.

It is not rare to see a regime like Iran's -- despotic, internally weak, feeling the world closing in -- attempt so transparent a ploy to relieve pressure on itself. What is rare is to see the craven alacrity with which such a ploy is taken up by others.

Mark my words. The momentum for U.S.-Iran negotiations has only begun. The focus of the entire Iranian crisis will begin to shift from the question of whether Tehran will stop its nuclear program to whether Washington will sit down alone at the table with Tehran.

To this cynical bait-and-switch, there can be no American response other than No. Absolutely not.

Just yesterday the world was excoriating the Bush administration for its unilateralism -- on Kyoto, the ABM Treaty and most especially Iraq -- and demanding that Washington act in concert with the ``international community.'' Just yesterday, the Democratic candidate for president attacked Bush's foreign policy precisely for refusing to consult with, listen to and work with ``the allies.''

Another day, another principle. Bush is now being pressured to abandon multilateralism and go it alone with Iran. Remember: In September 2003, after Iran was discovered cheating on its nuclear program, the U.S. wanted immediate U.N. action. The allies argued for a softer approach. Britain, France and Germany wanted to negotiate with Tehran and offer diplomatic and economic carrots in return for Iran giving up its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. acquiesced.

After two and a half years of utter futility, the EU-3 had to admit failure and acknowledge the obvious: Iran had no intention of giving up its nuclear ambitions. Iran made the point irrefutable when it broke IAEA seals and brazenly resumed uranium enrichment. 

The full understanding we had with our allies was that if the EU-3 process failed, we would together go to the Security Council and get sanctions imposed on Iran. Yes, Russia and China might still stand in the way. But even so, concerted sanctions by America, Europe and other economic powers could have devastating effects on Iran and on its shaky clerical dictatorship.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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