By Michael Shank

Sir, Let us for a moment consider the merits of engagement (“A very small step: Pyongyang’s nuclear declaration is no breakthrough”, editorial, June 27). Three successes in 2008 are particularly salient and worth citing.

US ambassador Christopher Hill’s persistent diplomatic penetration of North Korea’s notorious and noxious isolationism has finally unearthed some tractable – and previously conflict-ridden – landscape. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s eleventh-hour emergency engagement in Kenya brokered a post-election agreement between the government and opposition parties thought impossible amid the din of violence. The current UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s meetings with the obstinate military junta leadership in Myanmar opened the door to critical aid deliveries.

In all three cases, high-level engagement greased the wheels towards effective diplomacy if only because the intervening dignitaries offered mere recognition of equality and import to those whose hearts and minds needed winning.

The lesson for Iran is clear. The US, and the UK for that matter, has yet to send any official representative of high standing. In recent nuclear negotiations, David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, sent his underlings while the US sent no one at all. Have we learned nothing from Mr Hill, Mr Annan or Mr Ban? And that is just in 2008. Forget the fact that many years ago US president Richard Nixon engaged the enemy China, or that president John Kennedy engaged the enemy Russia.

On Iran, recognition might just do the trick. And perhaps that is what scares the US most.

Michael Shank,
Government Relations Adviser,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,
George Mason University,
Arlington, VA 22201, US