Cliff May

‘Any agreement that does not recognize the rights of the Iranian people and does not respect these rights, has no chance,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week.

The Iranian foreign minister was not talking about freedom of speech, assembly, and religion — among the many human and civil rights his regime has denied the people of Iran for more than 30 years. No, he was talking about a “right” that does not exist: his regime’s “right” to enrich uranium.

Derisive laughter would have been an appropriate reaction. Instead, many leading lights of the foreign-policy establishment have been adamant that the Obama administration not do or say anything that might upset Iran’s rulers and, what’s more, that it provide economic relief as a “confidence-building” measure.

What do these progressive commentators think Iran should offer in return? Not much: not a halt to uranium enrichment or the construction of a plutonium facility at Arak; not dismantling of centrifuges or other infrastructure of nuclear-weapons production; not the handing over of existing uranium stockpiles; not serious additional compliance and verification measures. And they vehemently oppose a new sanctions bill that passed in the House — with strong bipartisan support — and is now stalled in the Senate.

An informed and lively discussion of these issues could be edifying. But those who favor the U.S.’s having more negotiating leverage, not less, are not being debated — they are being denounced. “Warmonger” is just one of the terms being hurled.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, has been gentler. He labels those calling for tradeoffs rather than giveaways “naysayers” with “neither history nor current reality on their side.”

There is “not a chance,” he asserts, that Tehran will abandon its “right” to enrich uranium. Even if we suppose he’s correct, why shouldn’t that be a topic of negotiations? Why give it away in advance and for nothing?

For reasons I can’t fathom, Gelb also believes the discussions now underway could produce a grand bargain, a “deal that would lead to the Mideast equivalent of ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union.” A little history that’s not on his side: President Reagan’s strategy, memorably summarized as “We win, they lose,” was to accelerate the arms race, thereby putting heavy economic pressure on the Russians, and to demand the demolition of the Berlin Wall — which many foreign-policy sophisticates at the time saw “not a chance” of happening.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.