In the Arena

Meeting the Iranians

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Richard Holbrooke did today. All part of the public gavotte–Obama issues Nawruz greetings, Supreme Leader scoffs, Larijani fumes, Holbrooke shakes hand of deputy foreign minister, says nothing “substantive” took place. Two points:

1. The handshake is a big deal. In 2000, Madeleine Albright had choreographed a casual handshake between Bill Clinton and Iranian president Khatami at the United Nations–and Khatami pulled out, under orders, one presumes, at the last minute. It was only a deputy foreign minister this time, but he showed.

2. If you think the public gavotte is all that’s happening between the US and Iran right now, you are very naive. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this were not the first time Holbrooke had met with an Iranian in the past few months. Clearly, cooperation on the Af/Pak part of the program is proceeding apace and it ain’t happening by osmosis. I wouldn”t be surprised–indeed, I’d be disappointed–if there weren’t discussions taking place on a range of issues, out of the public eye. That’s how these things get done, when they get done.

But, of course, there are people like this guy who actually think the public show is all that’s going on. Then again, after the eight years of George W. Bush, there’s a whole generation of Americans–some who style themselves as foreign policy experts–who have no idea how diplomacy works. They think everything happens on the surface. You declare an Axis of Evil. The earth shudders–and that’s…diplomacy! My guess is that George H. W. Bush and his diplomatic team know exactly what Obama is trying to accomplish here; I wouldn’t be surprised if  a few members of that team were being consulted about the diplomacy that is ongoing.