On Saturday, the New York Times ran a story which stated unnamed officials with the Obama Administration had disclosed that Iran had agreed to direct talks with the United States over its nuclear program following next month's presidential election. Within hours of this report both the White House and the Iranian Foreign Ministry had denied the story.
However, for argument's sake, let us suppose there are plans in the works for direct talks. What do the United States and Iran gain from entering into them? The United States, as represented by the Obama Administration, can make the case that sanctions policy against Iran have been working and now it wants to sit down and talk. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Times, "This month of October, the currency in Iran has declined 40 percent in value. There is unrest in the streets of Tehran, and the leaders in Iran are feeling it. That's exactly what we wanted the sanctions program to do."
For Iran's part, by agreeing to these talks, they give the appearance of being a rational actor amenable to compromise rather than the nation that wishes to build a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the map and for other nefarious purposes. Yet I don't think the Mullahs are motivated by the implementation of sanctions.
Consider this paragraph in the initial Times article:
Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.
What that tells me is that Iranian government officials have been paying attention to the presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney and they see the writing on the wall. They believe Romney will be the next President of the United States.
Simply put the Iranians want an agreement in principle to talk with the Obama Administration after the election because they know what to expect from them. This is, after all, the administration that attempted to initiate "hot dog diplomacy." Frankly, it did not work. This is also the administration that is carrying a soft stick. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month with respect to Iran, "We're not setting deadlines."
The Iranian regime might believe America to be the Great Satan but the Obama Administration is the Devil they know. Iran knows it can obfuscate its way through talks with the Obama Administrations as it has with the EU3 (Germany, France, and the United Kingdom). Iran also knows the Obama Administration won't stop them from building a nuclear weapon and using it. But Iran has no such assurances from Mitt Romney and if he is elected then all bets are off.
In other words, Iran fears Romney.
Why else would Iran want to know with whom they would be negotiating?
As I write this, the third and final debate between Obama and Romney is mere hours away and will be focused on foreign policy. There is no doubt there will be a great deal of discussion concerning Iran. Given how the Obama Administration has been less than forthcoming about the Benghazi attacks, President Obama will make every effort to convince the American voter that Romney's policy on Iran would lead us into another war. Indeed, Obama's aides have said the President plans to press Romney on this very question. It is an argument that could resonate with a critical mass of Americans who are weary after two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with little to show for it despite the Herculean efforts of our troops.
President Obama might very well say (as he has in the past) that Ronald Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union. So if Reagan could negotiate with the Soviets then why can't Romney negotiate with Iran? To which Romney could respond, "I hope you aren't suggesting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the next Mikhail Gorbachev." Romney could then remind the President that Gorbachev was a genuine reformer while Ahmadinejad saw fit to have his own people killed when they didn't want him to remain in power following a fraudulent election. "By the way, Mr. President, that was an election in which you saw fit to say that America should not be seen as 'meddling.'"
Romney could then go on to say, "I agree that talking is preferable to going to war. But talk can only be successful when both parties act in good faith. Can you name one thing the Iranians have done in good faith during your term in office? No? I didn't think so. Besides Mr. President, what makes you think that Iran's offer is anything more than a ruse which buys them more time to build a nuclear weapon?"
Can you say President Romney?