Pro-Iran Columnist Roger Cohen Excuses Iran's Malfeasance

Pro-Iran, anti-Israel columnist Roger Cohen writes yet another column downplaying Iran's malfeasance and pursuit of nuclear warheads: "How to Talk to Iran," which evidently ran in the International edition of the Times Thursday.

Cohen first caused an outcry in a February column arguing Jews had it pretty good in Iran. Then he condemned the United States and Israel for demonizing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while accusing Israel of lying about the Iranian threat. He also thinks calling the anti-Israel terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah "terrorist" is too simplistic.

After the brutal crackdown on protests in Iran after fraudulent elections returned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, Cohen admitted "I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness."

Cohen's anger has worn off. After examining Iran's new conditions for talks and putting forth some pro forma reservations, Cohen declared it absolutely necessary that President Obama accept them "as an entrée to talks" with the regime.

The five-page Iranian platform for talks with major powers - "Cooperation for Peace, Justice and Progress" - has been much mocked as evasive blather, but is in fact an instructive document that suggests the endeavor may not be hopeless. It bears close scrutiny.

True, it makes no mention of Iran's nuclear program, the elephant in the room, although it does talk of "promoting the universality" of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, of which Iran is a member but nuclear-armed Israel is not.


President Obama was right to accept the platform as an entrée to talks that will begin Oct. 1. I argued strongly for engagement with Iran after a February visit. During a second stay in Tehran, appalled by the brutal repression of protesters I witnessed after the June 12 election, I said Obama had to allow a decent interval on outreach. Three months have passed. That's a short pause, but matters are pressing and this is real toe-in-the-water stuff.

Cohen made an elaborate excuse for the "Orwell"-style language of Iran's package:

There's a lot of verbiage - some that Orwell would have seized on - in the Iranian "package," but that's just the way of things in Iran. Like many much-conquered countries, not least Italy, Iran loves artifice, the dressing-up of truth in elaborate layers. It will always favor ambiguity over clarity. This is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as "taarof" (hypocrisy dressed up as flattery), and one that is no stranger to "tagieh," which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.

Whatever you say, Roger.