But a conversation about human rights would do just the opposite. Under such a plan, Mr. Obama would announce that recent developments in Iran have sparked such concern about the basic rights of the Iranian people that he is setting aside talks about the nuclear issue to focus on talks about civil rights. He would propose a framework in which the U.S. would offer incentives—such as the gradual lifting of sanctions—in exchange for concrete steps towards greater protection of Iranian basic rights. The idea is similar in principle to Sen. Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson’s push for introducing human rights as a component of our negotiations with the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
The effect on the political dynamics inside Iran would be profound. Ahmadinejad would face a clear choice: Accept the framework and risk providing Iranians with the very freedoms that could undermine his totalitarian regime; or, more likely, reject the framework and incur the wrath of Iran’s democrats.
A majority of the Iranian people want greater protection for human rights and better relations with the West. Here would be an opportunity for them to have both. Proposing these talks would shine a spotlight on the fundamental thuggishness of the regime, whether Ahmadinejad agrees to them or not.