Iran, "Soft Power," and Haleh Esfandiari
May 24, 2007
There is always going to be a good case for dialogue with Iran, for the same reasons the US always talked to the USSR during the worst days of the Cold War, and should never have failed to recognize and talk to China. It is even more important to talk to hostile states than friends. The risks of misunderstandings are much greater, even limited progress in improving relations can help prevent wars, and present problems can lead to better relations in the future.
The Iranian arrest of Haleh Esfandiari, however, is a grim warning that dialogue with this Iranian government may have very little near term benefits. Her arrest is one more step in a process of steadily cracking down on contacts between US and Iranian moderates and liberals that began in the last years of the Khatami regime. Long before this arrest, Iranians in second track diplomacy and meetings outside the US had warned that they faced a steadily growing risk of government interference and arrest.
The Iranian president’s denial of Israel’s right to exist and the Holocaust has been a most egregious warning of Iranian attitudes. So have Iranian actions in dealing with nuclear proliferation, and Iran’s military focus on long-range missiles and asymmetric warfare capabilities in the Gulf.