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Obama's new approach on Iran

It's hardly heresy for the US to talk to its enemies.

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In the past 30 years, the United States has pondered regime change, military action, and containment as policies toward Iran. None have proved effective. Now Barack Obama is going to try engagement. In a weekend interview, he pledged a "new approach." We should not get too starry-eyed about this.

President-elect Obama will not soon sip tea in Tehran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and come away with his pledges to stop aiding terrorists, abandon its nuclear weapons program, and recognize Israel.

If the political stars align, what we might see is the beginning of considerably lower-level diplomatic engagement, perhaps the establishment of a US diplomatic post in Tehran, and some people-to-people, cultural, and sporting exchanges.

Obama should remember, as Middle East expert Fouad Ajami has written, that the Iranian theocrats are "a skilled and crafty breed." He should heed the warnings in a new Brookings Institution/Council on Foreign Relations report that the "process of engaging Iran will be protracted, arduous, and subject to shifts in Iran's internal dynamics" and does not preclude "tension or even conflict."

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