In a significant if veiled rebuff to the Netanyahu-Mark Kirk maintain-the-hate line, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz yesterday came out in favor of Obama and the rest of the P5+1’s negotiations with Iran. The two former secretaries of state opened their Wall Street Journal op-ed with piles of hawkish rhetoric, including the moving the goalposts assertion that the United States is “unalterably opposed to an Iranian military nuclear capability”. (The stated American position is that the United States will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.) Their tone is often somewhat overheated, with intimations that Iran threatens to lead an “Islamist” coalition devoted to an “anti-Western concept of world order.”

That said, it is more significant that Kissinger and Shultz did not denounce last month’s interim agreement at Geneva as a “bad deal,” nor did they condemn Obama’s secret diplomacy which preceded and prepared it, nor did they abhor the very idea of negotiation with the “mad mullahs.” They concluded their piece with the sensible admonition:

The next six months of diplomacy will be decisive in determining whether the Geneva agreement opens the door to a potential diplomatic breakthrough or to ratifying a major strategic setback. We should be open to the possibility of pursing an agenda of long-term cooperation. But not without Iran dismantling or mothballing a strategically significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure.

The course of negotiations will determine whether Iran and the P5+1 can agree on what kind of dismantling Iran needs to do. But I thought it significant that Kissinger and Shultz entertained the possibility of “long term cooperation” with Iran—a concept altogether alien to the John McCain, Mark Kirk, Lindsay Graham universe. Essentially their message is “negotiate a good deal,” which I’m pretty sure Kerry and his aides are trying to do. They precede that advice with the vague but evocative “Some adjustments are inherent in the inevitable process of historic evolution.” One can read this in various ways, and perhaps it’s merely a profound sounding throwaway line. But I don’t think so, and (as someone who has long respected, if not always agreed with, Kissinger) I’d read it as a rather subtle way of saying, “Look Iran is a strategically significant country with a large, educated and fairly pro-American middle class, and it makes no sense to treat it as a permanent enemy just because various so-called “traditional” allies may want you to.”