Talking to Ahmadinejad

Why the Obama administration should talk with Iran's leaders, even after the regime's despicable election behavior.

President Obama has gone about as far as he should go in condemning the government of Iran for its crackdown and repression of a popular movement for change in Iran. Since the election on June 12, his rhetoric has become harsher by the day. Yesterday, he said:

The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions.

Don't we all! But it's one thing for a Nation columnist to call the actions by the current Iranian regime disgusting and despicable, as I've done many times, and it's another thing for the president of the United States to do it. Because in the next few months, Obama may very well have to send emissaries to sit down and talk to that very regime. Now that he's condemned the repression, let's hope Obama goes back to his original plan of trying to get Iran to the table.

The cold, hard reality of Iran is that the current regime, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president is likely to remain in power. Yes, the legitimacy of their government has been stripped away. Yes, the regime has all but eliminated the "republic" part of "Islamic Republic," relying now on sheer military power to rule. Yes, its crackdown on dissidents has been ugly and brutal.

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But if Khamenei and Ahmadinejad want to talk to the United States, perhaps as soon as this fall, America's answer had better be: Yes.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.