WikiLeaked: The Kerry plan for Iran

If Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, one of the first issues to cross his desk will be Iran's nuclear program. Kerry has discussed the issue before. We've poured over the WikiLeaks cables, which paint a broad portrait of Kerry's diplomatic style. In those classified documents, he discussed how he might approach the issue.

The first reference comes from a conversation in February 2005 with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Kerry told Barnier that "his conversations in the region had convinced him that Iran remains committed to a nuclear weapons program, but agreed that there were no good alternatives to negotiating." Though he did not rule out a military option, he did point out it "would be difficult," and pointed to U.N. sanctions, which have since been put in place and periodically ratcheted up, as an alternative. Still smarting from his defeat in the presidential election in 2004, Kerry remarked that "his own intention, had he been elected president, was to pursue front channel and back channel contacts with the Iranian regime."

Five years later, Kerry got the opportunity to open some of those back channel contacts. In a February 2010 meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Kerry commented that Washington's behind-the-scenes signals to Tehran had gone unanswered. He "observed that the Iranians are scared to talk...Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him." Al-Thani then reportedly offered to be an intermediary. "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?" he asked.

Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.

The United States recognizes Iran's ambitions to be a regional player, Kerry told al-Thani, and wants a dialogue about what sort of power it will be.

Of course, that conversation took place nearly three years ago. A lot has changed -- or, maybe very little has changed, and as a result patience in Washington is running low. Kerry's views may have shifted since then, but he'd probably still agree with the comment he made then to al-Thani: "It is crazy to continue on this collision course."



Should Obama cut $8 billion in foreign aid to protect 20 American schoolchildren?

I don't have much to say about NRA chief Wayne LaPierre's remarks about the Newtown shooting. I'll leave that to the domestic guys. But my ears did perk up at this bit:

With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business -- and no authority -- denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

Grousing about how much taxpayer money goes to foreign aid is one of America's great traditions. But Americans tend to have a wildly exaggerated sense of how much they spend on foreign aid each year. There are many different ways to count, but $50 billion is a good ballpark estimate, when you include military aid and various programs spread across the U.S. federal government. You could also exclude the military stuff and just count the State Department and USAID budgets, which works out to around the same amount. Either way, it's roughly 1 percent of the budget -- not 25 percent, as Americans routinely tell pollsters.

How much would it cost to put "a police officer in every school?" According to economist Justin Wolfers, about $8 billion annually. On average, he says, around 20 kids are killed in schools each year. "Implies: $400m per *potential* kid saved," he tweets.

So, would Americans be willing to take $8 billion out of the annual foreign aid budget and devote it to possibly saving 20 kids per year? I suspect many parents will take that trade, but to a policymaker, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Oh, and one more thing: Columbine High School had armed guards.