In the Arena

We’re Talking

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…everywhere, to everyone, it seems–to Iran, in the context of the P5+1 talks, and to North Korea, outside the context of the six party talks.Let’s take North Korea first. I suspect this  is the tip of an iceberg that–to torture a metaphor–began to melt with Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang over the summer. Actually, it may have started melting earlier, when the Russians and Chinese supported a stronger sanctions regimen after the Nokos started testing missiles last Spring. That unity, plus the improved health of Kim Jong Il, made it both possible and necessary for the North Koreans to climb down from their craziness. The fact that we have agreed to bilateral talks, after receiving the approval of the other 6-party members (China, Russia, South Korea and Japan), would indicate that a breakthrough may not be too far away. This is excellent news.

The Iran news is more guarded and tactical. As regular readers may know, I supported such talks until the June 12 election debacle, which should have raised the stakes for the Iranians–they needed to show some sign that they were serious and not just farsing around. There is no indication that Iranians have, but the Administration has gone ahead anyway. There are two possible upsides to this strategy: we might actually make some progress–and we might not, thereby demonstrating to the other P5+1 members (Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) that the Iranians are intransigent and deserving of the same united front on sanctions that seems to have worked with the North Koreans. There are two downsides as well–that these talks will be cause for the Iranians to dither on the nuclear front and that they will confer international legitimacy on a brutal regime that seems to be further tightening the screws on the opposition.

I still have my doubts about the path the Administration is taking, but–as a general rule–talking is far better than not talking. Let’s hope it works.