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Are We Ready for Serious and Sustained U.S. – Iran Diplomacy?

January 20, 2011

The next round of multilateral negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program begins tomorrow in Istanbul, Turkey. Today FCNL joined with Iran experts and representatives of other organizations in support of reinvigorated, sustained diplomacy by the United States and its negotiating partners with a goal of ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Joe Volk and I traveled to Iran three years ago to model citizen diplomacy with other members of a U.S. religious leaders delegation. We learned first-hand about the decades of enmity between the U.S. and Iran. We also came away with a better understanding of areas in which the two countries have common interests.

Diplomacy allows us to focus on our common interests and on our differences.  Through diplomacy we develop professional and personal relationships that enable us to build on the points of common interest, as well as to discuss and agree on mutually-beneficial compromises that address differences.

In the end, diplomacy is the only sustainable means of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, avoiding the dangerous folly of military confrontation in the Middle East, and enabling progress in other critical areas of US interest, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the human rights situation within Iran.

Here is the full text of today’s statement:

As the United States prepares for the upcoming round of multilateral talks with Iran, it is imperative that the Obama Administration reinvigorate its diplomacy by pursuing engagement with Tehran more persistently, setting realistic objectives, and broadening the US-Iranian dialogue. Diplomacy is the only sustainable means of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, avoiding the dangerous folly of military confrontation in the Middle East, and enabling progress in other critical areas of US interest, such as Afghanistan and the human rights situation within Iran.

Reinvigorating diplomacy means seeking to engage Iran more persistently. The upcoming Istanbul meeting is only the fourth meeting on the nuclear issue involving both the United States and Iran, and no breakthrough can be expected without additional talks. Fortunately, time exists to pursue a diplomatic solution. Both US and Israeli officials have made public statements recently acknowledging that Iran remains years away from having the capability to construct a nuclear weapon.

Reinvigorating diplomacy also means pursuing realistic objectives. Unrealistic outcomes, such as insisting that Iran cease uranium enrichment entirely, however desirable, must be set aside. Focus should instead be placed on establishing monitoring and verification mechanisms that can ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is, indeed, used solely for peaceful purposes. Secretary Clinton stated in December that the United States would be prepared to recognize a peaceful enrichment program on Iranian soil. This is a productive step to achieve a satisfactory compromise for which the Administration should be commended.

Finally, reinvigorating diplomacy means addressing issues with Iran beyond the nuclear file. Tehran presents challenges and opportunities in many other areas of importance to US national security, including the stability of Afghanistan and Iraq, drug trafficking, and the human rights situation in Iran itself. The US should seek common ground in all areas of interest and not hold progress in one area hostage to resolution of others. Indeed, progress on human rights or Afghanistan may create a better climate for progress on the nuclear issue. The US engagement agenda must be expanded to reflect this.

Diplomacy with Iran will not be easy and no quick fixes should be expected. Iran must also negotiate in earnest and make the serious compromises necessary for resolution of the nuclear issue. The concerns of the IAEA, the P5+1, and the international community more broadly must be addressed by Iran on the basis of transparency and cooperation. Resolving decades of enmity between the US and Iran will require that both sides work to create openings for successful engagement.

Only reinvigorated diplomacy holds the promise of bridging the many divides between the US and Iran and achieving a sustainable solution that prevents a disastrous military confrontation, prevents an Iranian bomb and the additional proliferation that would follow, and protects the human rights of the Iranian people.

Barry Blechman, co-founder, the Stimson Center
Professor Juan Cole, University of Michigan
Sir Richard Dalton, Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London; Former British Ambassador to Iran
Debra DeLee, President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now
Jonathan W. Evans, Legislative Representative for Foreign Policy, Friends Committee on National  Legislation

Professor Farideh Farhi, University of Hawaii
Chas W. Freeman, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and President, Middle East Policy Council

Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, Jr., (USA, Ret.) Chairman, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
Col. Sam Gardiner (USA, Ret.)
Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Amb. John Limbert, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Executive Director, United4Iran
Paul Kawika Martin, Policy Director, Peace Action
Stephen McInerney, Executive Director, Project on Middle East Democracy
Robert Naiman, Executive Director, Just Foreign Policy
Trita Parsi, President, National Iranian American Council
Bruno Pellaud, Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency
Professor Paul Pillar, Georgetown University
John Rainwater, Executive Director, Peace Action West
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Professor Gary Sick, Columbia University
Professor John Tirman, Executive Director and Principal Research Scientist, MIT Center for International Studies

One Comment
  1. January 20, 2011 6:13 pm

    Instead of engaging in ideological claptrap, the US should actively work in formulating confidence building measures for the Iranians, up to and including some small concessions on our part that might provide a psychological comfort space to Iranian leaders that would allow them to initiate goodwill gestures and actions on their part.

    I believe that the ability of the US to make full and peaceful relations is as potentially a momentious step as was taken by Richard Nixon towards China in 1972. The Obama administration should be actively encouraged to take any reasonable means necessary to put forward a new tack towards improving our relations with Tehran.

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