RENE SYLER, co-host: But first, more on Iran’s nuclear threat and what the US hopes to do to put an end to it. Relations between the two countries have been virtually nonexistent since 1979, when a group of Iranian students took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year. Now the White House is reaching out to its old adversary. Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
Michael, good morning.
Mr. MICHAEL O’HANLON (Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution): Hi, Rene.
SYLER: All right, so why now? The president for months has said that he would not open up direct talks with this country. Why now?
Mr. O’HANLON: The simple reason is that we need to go the extra mile and show the world we’ve gone the extra mile if we want to apply economic sanctions. I think the administration is quite pessimistic about these negotiations working. They don’t think it’s some magic new formula they’ve hit upon that’s suddenly going to eliminate all the problems between the US and Iran, but they think that we have to show Russia, China, and even our European allies that we have tried every last thing. Because if we don’t get those countries convinced, they will not apply sanctions. And without their help, the sanctions will not be effective.
SYLER: Do you think that the US loses face by making this gesture at all?
Mr. O’HANLON: Only a little. But you know, sometimes a little bit of face loss of the right type can be healthy in the sense that we’re showing a certain humility, a willingness to reach out, and yet still remaining firm on principle, which is we’re going to insist they suspend their nuclear activities before any meaningful discussions can really happen or any concessions on other fronts like economic or political incentives can be discussed. So I think it’s smart. I think it shows that we are being flexible. Of course, the proof’s in the pudding, and if the talks themselves seem meaningless or half-hearted, no one is going to be too impressed by this gesture. But it’s still, I think, the right kind of thing to do.
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Everything old is new again. The George W. Bush administration tried something very similar under the rubric of the "GCC-plus-two," the two being Egypt and Jordan...these kinds of efforts to coalesce the broader Middle East around the common threat of Iran ultimately do not succeed, mostly because of the divergent interests and threat perceptions of each government, as well as the historical frictions between major Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.