What Kissinger Said: "I Do Not Believe That We Can Make Conditions"

Jim Lehrer missed an opportunity last night to help clarify for people
watching the debate what is in dispute between Democrats like Barack
Obama and Republicans like John McCain about U.S. policy towards Iran.
For the record, this is what McCain adviser and former U.S. Secretary
of State Henry Kissinger said about U.S. policy towards Iran,
according to the transcript
on CNN's website:

This was at an event with five former U.S. Secretaries of State, three
Republicans (Kissinger, Powell, and Baker) and two Democrats
(Christopher and Albright.) All five agreed that the U.S. should
negotiate with Iran, without preconditions.

What "without preconditions" means in this context is quite
straightforward and well-known. The current policy of the Bush
Administration has been that the United States will not enter into
substantive talks with Iran unless Iran first agrees to suspend the
enrichment of uranium. The five former U.S. Secretaries of State
agreed that this was a mistake, and that the United States should drop
this precondition for the beginning of talks.

Our former Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering, who has
spent much of his adult life being paid by the United States
government to be an expert on diplomacy, put it this way in an
interview earlier this year:

"Certainly, there's been a lot of suspicion of Iran, I
join in being concerned about Iran's nuclear program, I don't dismiss
that at all, it's serious. But I think asking for a price to open
talks is not a feasible way to get the conversation going, and it was
not the posture of the United States when it opened talks with North
Korea...my own feeling is that with Iran we should start talks with
Iran without preconditions."

It's John McCain's position - the neoconservative position - that is
the outlier. And besides electioneering, there's only one plausible,
logical explanation for the McCain-neoconservative position: they
don't want an agreement between the United States and Iran. What they
fear is not that talks would be useless, but that they might be

After all, as everybody knows, if the U.S. seriously pursued talks and
the talks failed, it would be a huge propaganda victory for the United
States. "See," the United States could say. "We tried."

What the neoconservatives are afraid of is that there might actually
be an agreement, and that an agreement would acknowledge and accept
Iran's status and interests in the region. Then the neocons would have
to give up their fantasies of "regime change" in Iran and "roll back"
of Iranian influence.

The neoconservatives are married to the precondition of suspension of
enrichment because they believe it is a deal-breaker for the Iranian
side. There is an overwhelming consensus of Iranian public opinion
that Iran has and must exercise the right to its own nuclear energy
program. This consensus includes every political faction with
significant influence in the country's politics. So, if your real goal
is to prevent any agreement between the United States and Iran,
insisting that Iran abandon its nuclear program (which is how Iranians
interpret the U.S. demand) as a precondition for talks is an excellent

There is a proposal on the floor that would meet U.S. concerns about
the future capacity of Iran to use nuclear technology for a weapons
program while satisfying the demand of Iranian public opinion for an
Iranian nuclear energy program. That is Ambassador Pickering's
proposal for multilateral enrichment in Iran, with full transparency
and vigorous inspections. This week in New York Iranian officials
restated Iran's willingness to negotiate on such a proposal.

That is what is in dispute. Do we want four more years - or even eight
more years - of confrontation with Iran in a McCain-Palin
Administration pursuing the neoconservative policies of the early Bush
Administration, or do we want to seriously pursue negotiations that
could lead to an agreement that would help stabilize the whole Middle
East, significantly facilitating U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and
promoting stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ambassador Pickering explains his proposal.

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