The New York Times:
Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.
There has always been a fair and symmetrical formula for the United States and Iran to resolve the full range of their differences: full normalization for full normalization. Donald Trump, who may — but probably doesn’t — want a war with the Islamic republic, should propose it, publicly and in detail, and see what happens.
It will be clarifying for everyone.
What is normalization? From the U.S. side, it would mean the immediate suspension of every economic and diplomatic sanction imposed by this or previous administrations. It would mean an American Embassy in Tehran and an Iranian one in Washington. It would mean direct flights between Iranian and American cities. It would mean two-way trade, direct investment, and the end of secondary sanctions that punish non-U.S. companies for doing business in Iran. It would mean tens of thousands of Iranian students once again enrolled in U.S. universities, and tens of thousands of American tourists once again exploring the grand bazaars of Iranian cities.
Iran’s people could surely use that deal. Since Trump reimposed U.S. sanctions last year, Iran’s oil exports have fallen by more than half, inflation has spiked to close to 40 percent and the rial has lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar. Iran’s economy is expected to contract by 6 percent this year. By some estimates, a third of all Iranians live in absolute, not relative, poverty, unable to afford the most basic staples of life.
As for the Iranian side, normalization would mean behaving like a normal country.
A normal country, with the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, is one that wouldn’t need to embark on multiple underground programs to enrich uranium and produce plutonium. It wouldn’t have engaged in extensive experimental work to figure out how to detonate a fissile nuclear core. It wouldn’t have retained an illicit network to circumvent Western restrictions on the sale of dual-use technologies for its missile programs.
A normal country is one that would not perpetrate terrorist massacres in Argentina. It wouldn’t seek to murder (via a Mexican drug cartel) the Saudi ambassador at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. It wouldn’t attempt an assassination plot in Denmark, or a bombing attack in France.
A normal country would not furnish military, financial and logistical support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who seems to have resumed using chemical weapons against his enemies. It wouldn’t supply the Taliban with weapons, training and new recruits. It wouldn’t provide its proxies in Yemen with ballistic missiles, especially now that those proxies are firing missiles at Mecca. It wouldn’t be a principal sponsor for militias and terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. It wouldn’t constantly avow and seek, at considerable cost to itself, the destruction of another state with which it has neither a historical nor territorial conflict.
A normal country wouldn’t hang gay people. It wouldn’t imprison women in their own clothes. It wouldn’t constantly arrest foreign nationals, including American journalists, on trumped-up charges as a means of gaining diplomatic or financial leverage.
In short, under the terms of a normalization-for-normalization deal, Iran could relieve itself of all U.S. pressure by permanently abandoning its nuclear ambitions, its human rights outrages and its reckless international behavior. That’s not a big ask.
Or at least it shouldn’t be, which is why Trump ought to deliver it in a carefully written speech — the kind normal presidents make about vital international and domestic topics. Mike Pompeo laid out roughly similar terms in his own speech on Iran a year ago, but his tone was more bellicose than beguiling. Trump prefers the combination of brash moves with simple messages. This would be it.
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