Foreign Policy

How to Kiss and Make Up With Iran

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In The New York Review of Books, former State Department officials William Luers and Thomas R. Pickering and MIT political scientist Jim Walsh make a case for adopting a less belligerent approach to Iran.  They see an opening in Hassan Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s presidential election and, paradoxically, in Iran’s growing immersion in the war in Syria, which creates “an added drain on the country’s already limited military, economic, and political resources."

Their first priority would be reaching an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. They reject the alternative, recommended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, of increasing pressure and sanctions, backed up by the threat of war. They point out that the kind of coercive diplomacy recommended by the Israelis and AIPAC has often failed. They also note that what has stood in the way of any success in improving relations with Iran has been a deep mutual distrust, based, for Iran, on the understandable fear that the U.S. aims at achieving regime change, as it attempted to do in Iraq.

Instead of increasing the threat of war, the authors suggest that the Obama administration imitate a series of steps that would persuade Iran that in exchange for pledging not to build a nuclear weapon (and agreeing to inspections to confirm the pledge is being carried out), the U.S. and the other negotiating partners would progressively lift sanctions and would also agree to Iran’s development of a peaceful nuclear program. They urge a meeting in the next months between Obama and Rouhaniperhaps during the fall United Nations session.

The authors point out that the United States stands much to gain from an improved relationship with Irannot just in ending the threat of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also in gaining Iran’s cooperation in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan (where Iran initially worked closely with the United States against the Taliban and al Qaeda) and in Iraq and Syria, where a regional Sunni-Shia war looms on the horizon. I hope the Obama administration heeds these suggestions, which requires not merely putting Iran on the back burner (which seems to be the current strategy), but actively pursuing a new relationship.

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