Talking to tyrants in Iran

There are no guarantees that direct U.S. engagement with Iran will improve the fortunes of Iranian reformers, but it will help them more than new sanctions will.

One of the most common claims about Iran's blatant election fraud is that it stripped the regime of its legitimacy, and therefore badly weakened it. Consequently, the common wisdom is that U.S. engagement with Tehran is now off the table for two main reasons: Washington can't appear to be rewarding Tehran after a brutal crackdown, and a weakened Iranian regime would be less able and willing to compromise, anyway. However, as some foreign policy analysts have realized, the Iranian government under Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is stronger and more consolidated than it has been in years. This is why intensified engagement—not the popular method of imposing additional sanctions—is what Washington needs to pursue in the coming years.

The first thing Washington has to accept is that the reform movement in Iran has been dealt a significant blow over the last three weeks. Instead of seeing the Green Wave crest and wash away the power of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, the world has watched it break up and recede. U.S. relations with Iran do not necessarily have to wax and wane with the fortunes of Iranian reformers, and it is unfortunately at the time when the Iranian regime feels most confident and secure in its hold on power that it will be most willing to negotiate and follow through on deals with the United States. As President Obama said during the campaign, negotiations are not rewards for the other government, and refusing to enter into talks is not a punishment.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us

Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.