March 25, 2009

Obama to remain “persistent” in talking to Iran

For months, we’ve been arguing against setting artificial deadlines for diplomacy with Iran.  To us, if 30 years of sanctions hasn’t achieved our objective, it only seems fair that diplomacy should be given enough time to succeed. Some in Congress disagree.
But fortunately, President Obama last night weighed in, unprompted, during his press conference.  “I’m a big believer in persistence,” he said, referring to a broad array of issues, from healthcare to MidEast peace, and finally to Iran.

“When it comes to Iran, you know, we did a video sending a message to the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And some people said, ‘Well, they did not immediately say they were eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.’ Well, we didn’t expect that. We expect that we’re going to make steady progress on this front.”

We are heartened by this approach; seeking “steady progress” is exactly the kind of outlook our leaders need right now.  They should not allow themselves to be shaken by quixotic rhetoric coming from Tehran.  In fact, it’s Obama’s job now to set the agenda, based on the strategy that he and his advisors agree on, and then carry it out.  What’s the use of a policy review if it can all be undone by one speech by Ayatollah Khamenei?
It’s best to let our diplomats (who are far and away the best in the world at what they do) get the job done.
update: Unsurprisingly, Bill Kristol over at the Washington Post misconstrued Obama’s thoughtful statement about persistence, coming to the conclusion that Obama has “no sense of urgency about Iran’s nuclear program.”  And in one of his better “the sky is falling” moments, Kristol wondered aloud: does Obama’s “relaxed statement about Iran tonight suggest he has quietly decided to accept the previously unacceptable?”
On the contrary, I think Obama is showing remarkable urgency about Iran’s nuclear program.  That is precisely why he’s chosen to start his outreach now, rather than waiting until after the June election.  This way, Obama can engage directly with hardliners, preventing them from criticizing reformist candidates for supporting talks with the US.
Progress, indeed.

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