Engaging the Enemy?



The annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is beginning to feel like a sequel to a really bad horror movie. True to form, the main villain of the past several years — in the guise of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — is once again taking center stage.

The Iranian demagogue is enjoying what he seeks most — unfettered publicity for his outrageous attacks on Israel and his denial of the Holocaust.

But while the rerun is getting more than tiresome, what matters most is what happens on the sidelines of the General Assembly and beyond. Some of these developments are distractions, some give voice to simmering frustrations, and some could determine how serious the civilized world is in what most likely will be the last opportunity to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threat.

Speaking last Friday at a Tehran rally marking solidarity with the Palestinians, Ahmadinejad said once again that the Holocaust is a "lie," and that Israel's days were "numbered" and its regime was "dying."

For his part, Ahmadinejad says that he was proud he's angered Western countries by denying the Holocaust. He went even further by threatening to "cut off" the hands of anyone who attacks the country militarily.

The one glimmer of hope arising from that Tehran rally is the re-emergence of the Iranian opposition, which has dubbed the Iranian elections in June a fraud. Like the child who exposed the naked emperor, the protesters took the regime to task for using Israel to deflect attention away from the country's real problems.

Ahmadinejad's latest fiery rhetoric came just days before his address to the General Assembly, and two weeks before Iran is set to launch its dialogue with the West under an Obama administration initiative.

That these are not the words of a statesman is hardly a surprise. The question we all need to ask is just what Iran hopes to accomplish as it basks in the spotlight once again.

A public rally outside the United Nations on Thursday was expected to draw activists from around the country, including Philadelphia, to press for sanctions against Iran.

But the real test will come next week, when the United States is scheduled to sit down for formal talks with Iran for the first time. The Obama administration says that it wants to make one last effort to engage Iran in dialogue before pressing for tougher sanctions, including a potential embargo of gasoline.

Some human-rights activists worry that engaging with Iran now lends legitimacy to a leadership whose re-election itself was illegitimate. The larger question is whether Ahmadinejad and associates will be willing to even discuss the nuclear issue.

And if they do, can they be believed? Or will this, too, become just another rerun — a replay of Iran's obfuscation?


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