Abbas Milani in the Boston Review:
What policies should the United States adopt toward Tehran?
Two answers dominate current discussion. The first advocates a grand bargain with the Iranian regime: we provide security guarantees and convince them that “regime change” is no longer part of U.S. policy; in return, the regime abandons its nuclear ambitions. The second proposes to continue the Bush policy: the Islamic Republic gives up its enrichment activities; we respond by opening discussions. The first strategy offers what the regime most covets before starting to talk; the second insists that the regime surrender its most important bargaining chip before negotiations begin.
Neither approach is very promising. Moreover, they share a common weakness. Both concentrate on Iran’s nuclear program and forgo any concern for the fate of human rights and democracy there. That is why many Iranian democrats fear a Libyan scenario, whereby an oppressive regime promises to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for American and European good will. As a practical matter, “good will” means little more than a disregard for human rights violations in the country graced by it.
To find an alternative strategy, we need to step back from the current impasse and consider a deeper point of convergence between the United States and Iran.