Bob Kagan, one of the smartest and most influential American foreign policy thinkers, has a compelling piece on how to deal with Iran in the Washington Post.
Here’s how he starts:
Neither, however, will the administration make further progress in winning international support for tighter sanctions on Iran. Fear of American military action was always the primary reason Europeans pressured Tehran. Fear of an imminent Iranian bomb was secondary. Bringing Europeans together in support of serious sanctions was difficult before the NIE. Now it is impossible.” The point about the Europeans and sanctions is, perhaps, a little sweeping. But it would certainly be correct if applied to the international community as a whole. Stephen and Daniel Finkelstein are right: Iran mothballing its weapon programme in 2003 is an argument for sanctions. But sadly the United Nations does not work logically and the rest of the world will conclude that if Tehran has suspended its nuclear weapons programme then there is no need to tighten sanctions on the regime.
Kagan’s conclusion is that it is time for the Bush administration to talk to Iran. His view is that much of the world thinks that the real obstacle to solving the Iran problem is American intransigence; by offering to talk Washington destroys that argument. Second, talking is not the same as appeasing. As Kagan says, “There's no reason the United States cannot talk to Iran while beefing up containment in the region and pressing for change within Iran.” Finally, by starting talks now Washington denies Tehran one of the things it wants most: time.
If the Bush administration doesn’t try and open talks then the next administration probably will, and certainly will if the president’s a Democrat. So the same result will be achieved but just with Tehran gaining an extra year.