October 26th, 2011
09:34 PM ET

Zakaria: How to deal with Iran's nuclear future

By Fareed Zakaria

Early in the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama signaled that he was going to break with the Bush administration’s Manichean foreign policy. The topic was Iran. He explained repeatedly that the Bush policy of simply pressuring Iran was not working and that he would be willing to talk to the country’s leaders to find ways to reduce tensions and dangers. Two years into his presidency, Obama’s Iran policy looks a lot like George W. Bush’s — with some of the same problems that candidate Obama pointed out two years ago.

To be fair, the administration started out in 2009 by making overtures to Iran, which were rebuffed by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Then it watched as the Green movement rattled the regime. But the result is that the administration has lapsed into a policy of pressure, pressure and more pressure.The punitive tactics have paid off in some measure. Iran faces economic problems. But the tactics are also having a perverse impact on the country, as I saw during a brief visit to Tehran last week. The sanctions are stifling growth, though not as much as one might imagine because Iran has oil money and a large internal market. Their basic effect has been to weaken civil society and strengthen the state — the opposite of what we should be trying to do in that country....

Obama should return to his original approach and test the Iranians to see if there is any room for dialogue and agreement. Engaging with Iran, putting its nuclear program under some kind of supervision and finding areas of common interest (such as Afghanistan) would all be important goals....

Strategic engagement with an adversary can go hand in hand with a policy that encourages change in that country. That’s how Washington dealt with the Soviet Union and China in the 1970s and 1980s. Iran is a country of 80 million people, educated and dynamic. It sits astride a crucial part of the world. It cannot be sanctioned and pressed down forever. It is the last great civilization to sit outside the global order. We need a strategy that combines pressure with a path to bring Iran in from the cold.

Read my full piece in The Washington Post.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. hass

    To say that Obama made overtures to Iran that were rebuffed is false – it was obviously a ruse. The Iranian Supreme Leader specifically said that Iran will judge the Obama administration on actions not words, and Obama's actions were pretty much identical to Bush's.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Obama should meet the supreme leader Khamenei or Ahmadinejad for an informal meeting, to break the ice! As the supreme leader has never left the country, I doubt if he would go anywhere. Obama could suggest Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum to invite Ahmadinejad to Davos in January 2012 to talk about nuclear energy. Obama could meet Ahmadinejad there.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  3. Eugene Levich

    Obama approaches Iran with a posture of weakness, one formed by his own inclinations and by American economic malaise. Iran has been getting away with worldwide terrorism for a long time, challenging America and other democratic countries with impunity. What possible reason would Iran have under current Western policies to change its behavior? Iran will never reverse its nuclear policies until it shown in a convincing manner that it is playing seriously out of its league, and in a very dangerous, suicidal game. One B-52 is worth 10,000 words.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Shahin

      If you pilot the b52 I'll gladly join Iran's army artillery division.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:31 am |
      • Smith

        Not the artillery division. You have to join Iran's airdefense forces and be part of S-250 division which is tasked with shooting down B-52 bombers.

        October 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
      • Shahin

        silly me

        October 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  4. sinz54

    The reason why Obama abandoned the policy of engagement is that it was a flop.

    Just two weeks ago, the U.S. intercepted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador by blowing up a restaurant in Washington DC (the collateral damage would have included American lives). Zakaria never even mentioned that in his column. And Zakaria wants the U.S. response to that to "return to engagement"?

    That 's appeasement of a highly aggressive Iranian demarche.

    The new American president who replaces Obama in 2013 isn't going to pursue any more appeasement of Iran. Or nation-building either. We've gotten that delusion out of our system too.

    Change is coming.

    October 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  5. Karan

    Following the news on the Nuclear negotiations, crackdown, political prisoners, state of economy it should be blatantly obvious to anyone that this regime does not compromise – They will buy time to stay for a little longer but they will not compromise – See 4 years of recorded history here – http://bit.ly/eodtMI.

    If you really want to do your job, do not interview Ahmadinejad – He only uses these occasions for legitimacy and advancing his own agenda. Last time he held public office – mayor of Ardebil – He would not leave his office after his time was up – He is now fighting to stay in power – He has minimal support and the same is truw for the Mullahs' – The only way out is regime change.

    October 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  6. Esther Haman

    If you believe this I have a bridge to sell you. Iran will not make any contact with this president. Mr Obama has already shown his intentions in Iran with the terrorist activity in South East of Iran where 80 or more people were killed by the CIA trained Jundallah terror organization. They read through Mr. Obama's intentions after his attempt, orchestrated by the UKMI6 to topple Iran's government again as they did in 1953. The Green movement that we keep hearing about was plaid like a fine tuned piano by us and the MI6.

    Mr. Obama wants to make a name for himself and lock in the victory in the next re-election ASASP, by playing the hero image, whats better than that?!. The Osama Bin Ladin's killing was also well orchestrated and the timing was perfect to give him the maximum effect. Who knew how long Osama was in that compound and was allowed to live there?! Well, let me tell you, NOT just the Pakistanis knew about it, but we knew about it, but we had to delay it, so Mr. OBAMA GET HIS MAXIMUM PUBLICITY EFFECTS.

    So, guess who would be even a bigger hero if he could topple Iran's notorious government. You guessed it. Yeah, Right, he extended his hand in friendship, but he had a dagger in the other hand ready to strike.

    Get real.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  7. Will

    As much I usually agree with Zakaria, and I can't help but wonder how he missed the last three years. It takes two to negotiate, and Iran has shown that it wont. Obama is pursuing this policy because its the only one that he can. He simply can not "just talk to them" they won't listen. They will however launch a terror attack though.

    October 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  8. ET

    It looks like trouble all around . If cooler heads are allowed to prevail there would be no loss of life and no war . Yet in the world of geopolitics hardly anything goes according to plan . Stick to diplomacy . That way you can work on isolating Iran without putting Israel in danger . You also keep Russia and China placated . They won t feel that the US is not surrounding them on all sides . It will pay off in the long run .

    November 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  9. jubilirao

    Nuclear energy was developed during world war II by western powers and was used later on for peaceful uses like power generation,Medical instrumentation etc but the powers did not opt to have a control on the resources required for this implementation, So much so prolifiration of this knowledge has taken place through legal and illegal means and now you see more countries are in position to use thia route for non-peaceful means and the world has become a threatening world. The so called permanent members of UN Security council are divided among themself to how to control this issue. They should first agree among themselves to how to control this prolifiration if they can't the security council should be disbanded UN should decide on more democratic manner a different solution. Unfortunately the WORLD is not want to be peaceful due to religious animosities.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:47 am |
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