September 22, 2019

Opinion | Trump and Ahmadinejad Are Right

Opinion | Trump and Ahmadinejad Are Right

“President Donald Trump and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are on the same page” is something only a science fiction writer would have typed before the summer of 2019.

Yet, here we are: Mr. Trump said last month on “Meet the Press” that he’d talk to Iran with “no preconditions.” Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, in an interview with The Times on Friday, proposed direct talks between the two nations. In New York on Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister said that he was willing to meet directly with American senators to chart a course out of the crisis sparked by the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Talks would offer a welcome shift of venue for decision making away from the Strait of Hormuz, where military commanders are waging a dangerous game of “shoot down the drones, seize the oil tankers.”

On Friday, Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ruled that Gibraltar could continue to hold an Iranian tanker seized on July 4 and suspected of attempting to smuggle oil to Syria in contravention of European Union sanctions. Within hours, Iran announced that its forces had seized a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, as it transited the Strait of Hormuz.

On Thursday, President Trump announced that an American warship downed an Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 yards of it. Iran brought down an American spy drone last month.

Earlier this month, three Iranian boats attempted to intercept a British-flagged supertanker, which was being escorted by a British warship. The boats were scared off.

A total of six tankers were damaged in May and June in the Gulf of Oman, in attacks that the Trump administration has blamed on Iran.

Forcing crisis after crisis is a tactic, one that the Trump administration deploys on fronts both foreign and domestic. But the tactic is in service of a dangerous strategy of brinkmanship. The last crisis with Iran, which centered on the downed American drone, was averted only after Mr. Trump said he had called off a military strike at the last minute.

A standoff where only the other side’s robots are shot out of the sky may be the future of warfare. But in this crisis, the risk of human bloodshed — and with it, obligatory demands for reprisal — is high.

Though no longer president, Mr. Ahmadinejad still wields considerable influence in Iran, which is why his offer of a grand bargain shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to The Times, proposed that the rival governments should discuss a number of disputes between the two nations that have flared up since the Iranian revolution in 1979, including the role that both countries play in regional conflicts.

Such a negotiated agreement starts to echo what Mr. Trump has long sought — a grander bargain than President Barack Obama got, one that would address not only the country’s nuclear ambitions but also its work on missile systems and support for regional terrorist organizations.

“Mr. Trump is a man of action,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told The Times. “He is a businessman and therefore he is capable of calculating cost-benefits and making a decision. We say to him, let’s calculate the long-term cost-benefit of our two nations and not be shortsighted.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to have greater faith in Mr. Trump’s wisdom than might seem to be justified by other diplomatic negotiations the president has undertaken. Further, there are competing factions in the Iranian government, just as there are in Mr. Trump’s administration, and internal politics on each side could upend even the possibility of talks.

But Mr. Trump, like Mr. Obama before him, has been right in recognizing the value of talking directly with one’s adversaries. His administration long ago jettisoned the diplomatic protocol against direct talks with North Korea and the Taliban, and it now has the chance to make another grand overture. Mr. Trump raised just that possibility last month, at a signing ceremony for yet another round of sanctions against Iran’s leaders.

“I think North Korea has a phenomenal future. And I think Iran also has a phenomenal future,” Mr. Trump said. “I think a lot of people would like to see them get to work on that great future.”

Maybe the future is no longer fiction. It’s time to get to work.

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