With U.S.-led talks to curb Iran's nuclear program underway in Geneva this week, American diplomats would do well to take a few pointers from the Gipper—my former boss, Ronald Reagan, that is—on how to negotiate effectively:
1. Be realistic; no rose-colored glasses. Recognize opportunities when they are there, but stay close to reality.
2. Be strong and don't be afraid to up the ante.
3. Develop your agenda. Know what you want so you don't wind up negotiating from the other side's agenda.
4. On this basis, engage. And remember: The guy who is anxious for a deal will get his head handed to him.
Take, for example, the negotiations with the Soviets that began in 1980 in Geneva over Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF). Reagan's agenda after taking office in 1981: zero intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles on either side at a time when the Soviets had around 1,500 such weapons deployed and the U.S. had none. Impossible! How ridiculous can you get?
When negotiations with the Soviets didn't move forward, the U.S. deployed INF in Europe, including nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in West Germany. We, with our NATO allies, had upped the ante.
The Soviets walked out of negotiations. War talk filled the air. Reagan and America's allies stood firm.
About six months later, the Soviets blinked and negotiations restarted. We worked successfully on a broad agenda designed to bring real change in the Soviet outlook and behavior. On Dec. 8, 1987, seven years after negotiations began, President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty whereby these weapons would be eliminated. So much for the impossible.
Apply these ideas to the Iranian problem—the regime's increasing nuclear capacity and its unacceptable behavior. The reality is that Iran is the world's most active sponsor of terror, directly and through proxies such as Hezbollah, and it has developed large-scale enrichment capacity that far exceeds anything needed for power-plant operations.
Worse, Iran openly expresses its intent to destroy Israel. The election of President Hasan Rouhani, a "moderate" in the eyes of some, may provide a slight opening. But don't bet on it. At this point, strength in the form of sanctions is taking its toll. As with the INF negotiations, the U.S. shouldn't be afraid to up the ante.
Tehran maintains that it wants nothing more than to produce nuclear power for its people, medical research and the like. As former Sen. Sam Nunn, currently CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, said on Nov. 11 in an address to the American Nuclear Society: "An agreement with Iran that allows us to test and verify Iran's claim that it has no intention of producing nuclear weapons is absolutely essential."
Moreover, if Iran has no intention of producing nuclear weapons, then Tehran should cease all uranium enrichment and immediately allow international inspections for verification. Nuclear materials for power and research facilities are readily available and have been offered to Iran for such purposes for years.
Do we have a fallback position? Yes. Allow Iran and the IAEA to identify an existing Iranian-enrichment facility that can supply what is needed for purely civilian use. Then make sure that all the other enrichment facilities and the heavy-water reactor in Iran are destroyed under international inspection. Once the job is done, sanctions will be lifted.
It has become a cliché, but it still holds true: Trust but verify. An impossible dream? Remember Reagan, who dreamed an impossible INF dream. What did the Gipper teach us? Dreams can come true when accompanied by a little reality, strength and a willingness to engage.
Mr. Shultz, a former secretary of labor, Treasury and state, and director of the Office of Management and Budget, is a distinguished fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.