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Conditioning a U.S.-Iranian Dialogue

President Barack Obama has confirmed a willingness to press ahead with negotiations to try to end the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program. Talks between the United States, Iran, and world powers are scheduled for October 1, possibly in Turkey (Reuters). And while the Islamic Republic may not be interested (PDF) in discussing its nuclear activities, U.S. and other Western negotiators clearly are. "It will be part of that discussion," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised this week. But analysts are deeply divided over whether gathering around the negotiating table will prove fruitful. Iran's disputed presidential election changed the calculus, these observers say.

For some, engagement remains the best approach. Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing chief of the UN nuclear watchdog, welcomed the U.S. decision and said only "through dialogue" (AFP) can the crisis be resolved. Chester A. Crocker, a professor of strategic studies at Georgetown, argues that engagement with rogue states has worked before, most recently with Libya (NYT) and the Bush administration. Robert Dreyfuss, a columnist at The Nation, meanwhile, argues the best strategy now is to "table an offer to Iran to allow Tehran to maintain its uranium enrichment program, on its own soil, combined with a system of stronger international inspections. That's the end game."

But others worry about acquiescing to a regime seen as illegitimate and fractured since June, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a controversial second term. Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, has argued for a "tactical pause with Iran" (FP). Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Washington Times that the Obama administration must reconcile how to deal with a discredited regime "while at the same...

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