In responding to the curious letter from the Iranian president, George Bush should take a page from President Kennedy’s book. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crises, Kennedy received two letters from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev — one conciliatory and open to compromise, the other blustery and full of threats and invectives. Kennedy chose to ignore the second, and responded to the first, opening the way to the peaceful resolution to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
Bush should follow Kennedy’s example, and ignore the substance of the letter and focus on the fact that it represents the first official Iranian communication with an American president in 27 years. He should take the opportunity of this opening and offer to engage in unconditional talks with Tehran aimed at resolving all outstanding disputes, including the nuclear one, with an eye to normalizing diplomatic relations as soon as possible.
Doing so could open the door to a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue. If diplomacy fails, the case for sanctions and other punitive steps would become that much stronger. And it would put the onus for resolving the budding crisis squarely back on Tehran, where it belongs.
In making an offer of unconditional negotiations, Bush might recall Kennedy’s important admonition in his inaugural: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Posted at TPMCafe on May 10, 2006 — 4:35 AM Eastern Time
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