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July 3, 2010

Hot Dog Diplomacy, Take 2


Last year, just before July 4th and only a few months after Obama took office with his pledge to engage Iran, the State Department sent a cable to every US Embassy around the world.  The message: for the first time in decades, Iranian diplomats could attend fourth of July parties.
The idea was met with some hostility in Congress, but overall it was considered a sensible move.  The Dobbins Plan, as it was known, was so popular mostly because the conventional wisdom in Washington agreed that barring American diplomats from interacting with Iranian diplomats abroad was such a self-evidently counterproductive thing to do.  Seriously, for thirty years it hurt Iran not one iota, but deprived us of an entire generation of diplomats who are familiar with Iranians and Iranian officials.
And this prohibition wasn’t a small thing.  When I interned in the US Embassy in Muscat, Oman, the first thing my supervisors told me was that I wasn’t to speak with any Iranian diplomats under any circumstances. I was allowed to shake the hand of an Iranian, but only if I couldn’t avoid it.  (I ended up doing exactly that once, having introduced myself to the guy standing next to me in a receiving line at a reception who happened to be from the Iranian Embassy.  He laughed just as soon as I said I am American, and gave me a knowing nod.)
Among  all the recommendations given to the entering Obama administration, this seemed to everyone like the first change they would enact.
But strangely, the administration has said absolutely nothing about it.  No change to the policy.  Not even a mention.  The prohibition continues.
Friends tell me that it’s only a matter of time before they finally allow low-level diplomatic contact, but by then it will have been more than a year and a half.  I say: it was a good idea last year, and it’s still a good idea this year.  What better way to put our best foot forward than to show Iranians how we celebrate the founding of our democracy?  The message of our founding fathers that imbues every Embassy’s July Fourth celebration is sure to be an appropriate model for Iran during this time of political tumult there.
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