Conor, rereading the post now, I think the problem is more with how I paraphrased McCain in haste to report on the conference call. McCain wasn’t necessarily saying that Iran had to meet all of those conditions in advance in order to trigger talks, but at least show a willingness to do so. McCain noted that low level talks already take place, and Iranians “haven’t shown the slightest inclination” to change their ways. So why should we escalate all the way to talks at the presidential level?
I do think there could be a lot of harm caused by negotiating with Iran, because talking to them gives them a certain legitimacy that they aren’t worthy of. Diplomatic relations with the U.S., after 29 years in the wilderness, itself is a coveted reward. In Iran, you also have a restive young population that could potentially rise up against the ruling regime. But were the U.S. President to meet with the Iranian leadership, they could use images of the meeting to send the message that the regime is stronger than ever, and thus discourage such dissident movements. Especially in the age of terrorism, it’s important to take a moral stand and send a signal to the world that any regime that behaves as Iran does will be ostracized. So, I think there clearly is harm to come from meeting with Iran. If there were the slightest reason to believe that such negotiations might be successful, than perhaps one could argue for conducting talks. But when you and I both know that there’s no realistic reason to believe that anything positive will come from such discussions, I don’t see why the U.S. should risk what I outlined above.
For a further discussion of why it’s a bad idea to talk to such regimes, I refer you to an article I wrote in 2006, in which I used failed negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s as my case study. Yes, just because we talk to another nation, it doesn’t mean we have to make concessions to it, but we often do.
But really, this is all backwards. Since the status quo for nearly 30 years has been not having diplomatic relations with Iran, those who want to open up talks at the presidential level need to make a strong, positive, case for doing so. Thus far, the case for meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come down to: 1) Why not? 2) It’ll make us feel warm and fuzzy and 3) Bush isn’t doing it, so it must be a good idea.
That isn’t enough.