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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dialogue with Iran must be started

The Bush administration's apparent fear of being "gamed" by the current administration in Iran is leading us down a dangerous and profoundly unproductive path.

In several ways, the repressive and often erratic leadership of Iran has indicated it wants to have talks with the U.S. about mutual issues, most notably Iran's emerging nuclear weapons program.

While some diplomats have said this marks an impressive change in the thinking of Tehran, the overtures have been publicly rebuffed in language that falls just short of insulting.

That's the wrong approach.

No one questions the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the current government in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made public statements about Israel and even the truth of the Holocaust that make one question his sanity.

And the United States remains, in the eye's of Iran's leadership, the "Great Satan."

There is also the likelihood that Iran has taken its cue from North Korea and is playing a cat-and-mouse game, stalling for time and angling for advantage through highly-charged rhetoric.

With all of that, there still remains no rational reason not to open talks in whatever forum they are offered. Talking is not conceding, nor does it signify even tacit approval of wrongheaded political policies. Indeed, the United States must be clear that no talks could ever result in the U.S. accepting a nuclear Iran.

Diplomatic relations should not be solely reserved for agreeable regimes that are willing to listen to our wise counsel and subscribe to our political views. Diplomacy is most useful, in fact, when the task is dealing with governments we have disputes with.

For all the swagger that has come out of the White House on these issues, there were signs last week that a more nuanced approach may be in the offing. In his joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush for the first time admitted at least rhetorical mistakes in the early days of the Iraq war and occupation.

One hopes a lesson was learned and that bravado will take a back seat to common sense and diplomacy as we move forward on Iran.

Whether it is North Korea, Cuba or, now, Iran, the task is to open dialogue and move away from confrontation. Recent signals out of Tehran suggest the Iranian government is ready to do just that. The opportunity must not be wasted.