Q. The Bush administration has little influence on Iranian behavior in Iraq. How would you elicit cooperation from Iran and Syria that the Bush administration has failed to obtain? Would we offer assurances that we would not be engaged in a policy of regime change. What would you do?
A. You’ve got the Bush administration expecting Crocker to make progress on the very narrow issue of helping Shia militias at the same time as you’ve got Dick Cheney giving a speech saying it is very likely that we may engage in military action in Iran and the United States Senate passing a resolution, suggesting that our force structure inside Iraq is dependent in someway on blunting Iranian influence. You can’t engage in diplomacy in isolation. There’s got to be a broader strategic context to it.
The Iranians and the Syrians are acting irresponsibly inside Iraq. They perceive that it is a way to leverage or impact or weaken us at a time when they’re worried about United States action in a broader context. I’ve already said, I would meet directly with Iranian leaders. I would meet directly with Syrian leaders. We would engage in a level of aggressive personal diplomacy in which a whole host of issues are on the table. We’re not looking at Iraq, just in isolation. Iran and Syria would start changing their behavior if they started seeing that they had some incentives to do so, but right now the only incentive that exists is our president suggesting that if you do what we tell you, we may not blow you up.
My belief about the regional powers in the Middle East is that they don’t respond well to that kind of bluster. They haven’t in the past, there’s no reason to think they will in the future. On the other hand, what we know, is that, for example, in the early days of our Afghanistan offensive, the Iranians we’re willing to cooperate when we had more open lines of dialogue and we were able to identify interests that were compatible with theirs.”