John McCain’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gave him the opportunity to concisely explain what he envisions is the appropriate course of action in regards to America’s relationship with Iran.

After speaking about the need to preserve Israel and listing the Iranian threats to the Jewish state (both the verbal hate of the Iranian president as well as Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist organizations), McCain explained why high-level political engagement is a poor first course of action:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami — a man by all accounts less radical than the current president — Iran rejected these overtures.

So, what’s McCain’s plan?

Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework …

At the same time, we need the support of those in the region who are most concerned about Iran, and of our European partners as well. They can help by imposing targeted sanctions that will impose a heavy cost on the regime’s leaders, including the denial of visas and freezing of assets.

There is a lot more, including divestments, taking a strong stance against the Iranian Republican Guard and actively supporting the peaceful hopes and dreams of the Iranian people themselves. Read the whole speech for all the details.

As for my opinion, I am still studying and considering the issue. I’m waiting for Barack Obama to be more specific as to what he means by “diplomacy” and what combination of carrots and sticks he plans to use. I believe our relationship with Iran will be one of the top foreign policy challenges of the next administration and I’m sure there isn’t an exact “right” choice in how we proceed. Iran poses real and significant risks but any action we take will have its own negative consequences. I wish I could say I was convinced as to who has the better answer (or the least bad answer), but I try never to make the mistake of thinking foreign policy is a simple matter with obvious causes and effects. I’ll be watching this issue closely.

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