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William H. Luers and Thomas R. Pickering

Ending the game of chicken

PRESIDENT OBAMA said last weekend “that an opportunity remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed’’ with Iran. Meanwhile, after a year of unsuccessful efforts, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) have accepted Iran’s invitation for renewed talks. A small diplomatic success now — with each side getting something important — could end the dangerous game of “chicken’’ between the United States, with its capacity to pressure, and Iran, with its capacity to endure.

The UN Security Council and the United States are betting that Iran cannot endure and that sanctions will eventually bring the regime to submission. We should remember that “the endurance of the enemy’’ was the biggest surprise of the Vietnam War to McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser under President Johnson. He also said he had been wrong to believe so strongly in the efficacy of coercion.

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