President Bush had his news conference today and of course there is going to be a lot of questions and skepticism about when he knew the NIE findings and why in August 2007, when according to his own account he was told by Mike Mc Connell, director of National Intelligence, that there was new intelligence on Iran, he did not ask what that new intelligence was and waited until last week to hear about it.
But being an “Iran person,” my moment of utter disbelief came when I heard him say this in the news conference:
“People say, would you ever talk to Iran? For you veterans here, for those who have been following this administration for a while, you might remember that I have consistently said that we will be at the table with the EU-3 if Iran would verifiably suspend their program -- and the offer still stands. What changed was the change of leadership in Iran. We had a diplomatic track going, and Ahmadinejad came along and took a different tone. And the Iranian people must understand that the tone and actions of their government are that which is isolating them. There's a better way forward for Iran. There's a better way forward for the Iranian people than one in which they find themselves isolated in the world. Their economy can be stronger. But their leadership is going to have to understand that defiance, and hiding programs and defying IAEA is not the way forward. And my hope is, is that the Iranian regime takes a look at their policies and changes their policies back to where we were prior to the election of Ahmadinejad, which was a hopeful period. They had suspended their program, they were at the table. The United States had made some very positive gestures to convince them that there was a better way forward. And hopefully we can get back to that day.”
This goes even beyond deception and reaches the level of unreal. The man must either think that no one is watching or he must have really convinced himself that prior to Ahmadinejad things were going all swell with Iran.
Just for the record, it is important to remember that the inclusion of Iran as a standing member of axis of evil came in May 2002 when the reformist Mohammad Khatami was president and after Iran and the United States had cooperated in Afghanistan.
It was also during the Khatami presidency, in 2003 and beyond, that the Bush Administration reportedly ignored Iran’s offer of a deal and continuously complained about the European track to negotiate with Iran. In fact, as late as spring and summer of 2005, until the last days of Khatami’s presidency, the Bush Administration refused to allow the Europeans to entertain any scenario that would permit Iran to contemplate engagement in any enrichment-related activity even in the future.
As I discuss here in 2005, it was this intransigence that ultimately led Iran to bring its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan out of suspension during the last days of the Khatami Administration.
I continue to believe that this intransigence was also very instrumental in pushing aside the more conciliatory foreign policy that was practiced during the Khatami era and opened the path for the hard-line argument that no concession will satisfy the United States. The United States only understands the language of power and not dialogue, it was and is continued to be said.
Just in case you are wondering, the Bush Administration did finally make an offer of direct negotiation, of course with the precondition of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment activities. It also abandoned the long standing opposition the United States has had to Iran entering negotiations with the World Trade Organization. But it did so not during the Khatami Administration but when Ahmadimejad was president in 2006!