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Hillary is right on Iran

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By John Barnhart

As I mentioned last week, it?s rare that I agree with a ?Democrat? and I start to worry about myself when I find myself agreeing with Hillary Clinton two weeks in a row. However, I must once again say that Clinton is absolutely correct about a foreign policy issue. At least, she is right concerning her differences with Barack Obama on Iran.

Clinton has described Iran as a threat to American interests in the Persian Gulf region. She also voted in favor of declaring Iran?s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization in September, and called for new sanctions against it.

Obama was not present in the Senate for that vote, but said that he would have voted against the measure and criticized Clinton for her favorable vote. Senator Obama, if elected president, wants to meet with Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, Iran?s president, for negotiations without preconditions. This is part of his quixotic idea of having meetings with various thuggish national leaders, such as North Korea?s Kim Jong Il, without doing any diplomatic advance work.

Obama wants to just fly to Iran and negotiate with Ahmandinejad. Maybe when they get together, Obama can give Mahmoud some fashion and personal grooming tips. In turn, Ahmandinejad could take Obama out for a camel ride.

Actually, the only ride that Ahmandinejad will take Obama on is a propaganda ride. For one thing, Ahmandinejad is facing an ?election? next year. It?s not a real election. In Iran, all candidates must pass muster with a council of Shia clerics and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the title of Supreme Leader, and holds the real power.

Nevertheless, the Iranian economy has not done well during Ahmandinejad?s presidency. Inflation is high and the government had to reduce its subsidies for gasoline, sending fuel prices substantially higher and generating discontent in the oil-rich nation, which must import most of its gasoline. The zeal with which his administration has enforced female dress codes has also resulted in discontent. An American president coming to negotiate with him, without preconditions, would be a wonderful propaganda coup for him.

It would also be a geopolitical propaganda coup for the Iranian government. The Iranian government would certainly brag about an American president coming to do homage to Iran?s president. A presidential offer to negotiate without preconditions would have propaganda value that could produce negative political consequences, for us, in the Middle East.

We are not punishing Iran by not talking with its government. However, at present, there is no reason for negotiations with Iran?s leaders because we have nothing to gain from high level talks with them. Even low level talks, last summer, produced nothing and some progress at that level would be necessary to lay the groundwork for our president to meet Iran?s president for negotiations.

Iran remains intransigent on a number of issues. It continues enriching uranium. Although an American intelligence estimate stated that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program a few years ago, European and Israeli experts have been skeptical. They say that the most difficult part of developing nuclear weapons is to establish a fuel cycle, an adequate amount of weapons grade fissionable material to start building nukes. Once that?s in place, the work necessary to actually make the weapons can be accomplished quickly. U. S. military commanders in Iraq also say that Iran is supporting an array of Shia militants in that country and actively working to destabilize the country?s government.

Iran clearly wants to dominate the Persian Gulf area and it currently has no reason to change it?s behavior. Russia and China have both acted as enablers for its behavior. Unless those countries become willing to stop doing that, talks between our president and Iran?s president will simply do more harm than good for us.