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Good Fences


A U.S.-Iranian committee set up to find ways to quell violence in Iraq will meet next week, Iraq's foreign minister said on Monday.

The two bitter foes' ambassadors have met in Baghdad three times since May after a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost 30 years, but have agreed on little of substance except the creation of the committee after their second meeting.

In the latest violence, a mortar attack killed seven inmates at an Interior Ministry jail and Iraqi security officials said a rocket strike started a large fire at a Baghdad oil refinery.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a news conference the talks would be held in Baghdad on Dec. 18.

Washington accuses Iran of arming, funding and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Tehran rejects this and blames violence, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"This will be a technical meeting, a follow-up to the last meeting of security experts, not at the level of the ambassadors but (deputy chiefs of missions) and security experts," Zebari said. More ambassadorial talks could be held later, he said.

It certainly is worth noting how monumental this is, hence my added emphasis. Since the diplomatic freeze following the revolution in '79, America has traditionally had all business in Tehran handled through the Swiss. The fact that two regimes with such heightened tensions can even agree that a security committee might be a good idea is a net positive. So when presidential candidates--and certain bloggers--clamor on about how we need "creative" diplomacy and direct negotiations with Tehran, it might be helpful if they described what that means in further detail.

To my recollection, Bill Richardson* and Barack Obama are the only candidates calling for unconditional negotiations, although there may be others. If these narrow and very structured security discussions teach us anything, it's that the argument for some sort of "grand bargain" meeting between the two governments isn't all that feasible. The relations didn't sour during the Bush administration, and have actually made strides even during tense times such as these.

The lesson here? Warm and fuzzy negotiations--structured around big pillar ideas and friendship--often produce very little substantive policy. To some, diplomacy means the American presient holding a photo op in Tehran with Ahmadinejad. This would appease some of the progressive sensibilities on the issue, but it doesn't take into account just how far apart these two nations are diplomatically. My guess is that small, structured and often methodical negotiations such as these are the way to go, and will likely yield better results if Iraqi security is the priority. While Iran would no doubt prefer a greater political role in Iraq, they may settle for now on a way to maintain a legitimate border between the two nations.

In other Iran news, Gateway Pundit provides us with a full roundup on the latest student protests in Tehran.

* Richardson arguably has the least serious Iran proposal of them all. Rather than negotiating with Ahmadinejad, he proposes that we talk directly with the more "moderate elements" in the Islamic republic...thus guaranteeing a swift jail sentence for those moderate elements.

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