These were the remarks of Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the American Academy of Diplomacy on May 14 — a day before his boss President Bush likened those who would advocate negotiating with the Tehran regime to Nazi appeasers in an address to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset:
. . . I think that the one area where the Iraq Study Group recommendations have not been followed up is in terms of reaching out the Iranians. And I would just tell you I’ve gone through kind of an evolution on this myself. I co-chaired with Zbig a Council on Foreign Relations study on U.S. policy toward Iran, in 2004. But we were looking at a different Iran in many respects. We were looking at an Iran where Khatami was the president. We were looking at an Iran where their behavior in Iraq actually was fairly ambivalent in 2004. They were doing some things that were not helpful, but they were also doing some things that were helpful.
And one of the questions that I think historians will have to take a look at is whether there was a missed opportunity at that time. But with the election of Ahmadinejad and the very unambiguous role that Iran is playing in a negative sense in Iraq today, you know, I sort of sign up with Tom Friedman’s column today. We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage with respect to the Iranians and then sit down and talk with them. If there’s going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can’t go to a discussion and be completely the demander with them not feeling that they need anything from us.
I think that my own view, just my personal view, would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth. There are actually a fair number of Iranians that come to the United States to visit. We ought to increase the flow going the other way, not of Iranians but of Americans. And I think that may be one opening that creates some space, perhaps, over some period of time.