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Richard Armitage was the 13th United States Deputy Secretary of State, serving from 2001 to 2005. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and then after the[…]

We should be talking to Iran, Armitage says.

Question: How pressing is the Iranian threat?

Armitage:    Well I lived in Iran for about a year, and I must say as charming, and educated, and cultured by the way I found Persians, I also found in my experience no country which was more ethnocentric.  For you and for me, the time of Persepolis was about 2,500 years ago; I think for most of our Persian friends it was yesterday.  And so there’s a great desire to I think, again, take a major place on the world stage.  And I think, at least in the hearts and minds of some in Iran and some in the leadership, the possession of nuclear weapons is a large step onto that stage.  That, given the rather difficult rhetoric that President Ahmadinejad puts forth, particularly about the right of Israel to exist, leads me to some concern. Likewise they are involved in some mischief certainly in Lebanon, and Iraq, and Syria which could lead to concerns.  Is it an immediate threat?  In my view it’s a longer term threat.  And I think politically, with the EU3 along with the United States being positioned to try to work diplomatically, we have some time.

Question: Should we engage Iran directly?

Armitage:    Absolutely.  My own view is first of all, you ought to have enough faith in your ability to conduct diplomacy that you could have talks even with enemies without losing ground at the negotiating table.  Or as I say, having them pick your pocket.  Besides, face-to-face discussions are beyond just trying to get the other guy to have your way.  It’s the ability to explore the depths of your adversary’s thinking.  It’s a possibility of . . .  There is a possibility of getting some G2 or some intelligence on them.  There are a whole host of reasons we ought to engage, I would say, with our enemies even more than our friends.