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At the table with Iran, what could the US concede?

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The UN Security Council Saturday unanimously passed a resolution to sharpen sanctions against Iran for its presumed nuclear-weapons ambitions. This unanimity provides the West with an occasion for a bold new diplomatic initiative.

The US should propose a comprehensive, formal dialogue with Iran on nuclear matters that also covers all issues that have divided Washington and Tehran since the cleric-led revolution toppled America's former ally, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlevi, in 1979.

Before beginning such a dialogue, however, the top officials of the Bush administration should first agree among themselves and with congressional leaders on the discussion's minimum aims – and the maximum concessions the West can offer.

A possible forum to kick-start a real dialogue could be the foreign ministers' meeting soon to be hosted by Iraq. This was agreed to at the earlier, lower-level Baghdad meeting this month on halting Iranian and other foreign interference in the insurgency and sectarian strife in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's agreement to join Iranian, Iraqi, British, Syrian, and Turkish foreign ministers at the future high-level conference is a helpful and hopeful sign.

Proponents of a US military strike on Iran, especially those among the more than 1 million Iranian exiles in the US, must have been rather startled by a recent Voice of America interview in Persian by Ardeshir Zahedi, former high-profile foreign minister under the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was the late shah's last and most activist ambassador in Washington – no friend of the Iranian mullahs.

Mr. Zahedi urgently cautioned Washington against any military adventure in Iran. Tightened UN and US economic sanctions, he also warned, would cause problems for Iranians, but wouldn't dissuade and might even accelerate the ayatollahs' nuclear programs.

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