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ACTION ALERT: An Opening for Negotiation with Iran


July 15, 2013
Just Foreign Policy & The Huffington Post & Al-Monitor

There are people in Congress who want a war with Iran, so they're determined to sabotage any diplomatic effort that could help prevent a war. But now there's a rare opportunity to pursue diplomacy with Iran. Iran's new leader, President Rouhani appealed to Iranian voters by saying: let's try to repair our relationships with the West. Iran now has a pro-diplomacy president and this creates a rare opening for diplomacy. Urge your representative to sign the Dent-Price letter.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/dent-price

An Opening for Negotiation with Iran
Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy

Do you remember during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when Senator Obama was asked, if elected, do you promise to meet with everyone?

And he said yes, I do?

And Obama reminded everyone that we have to be able to talk to our adversaries, that talking to adversaries is in our interests, that talking to adversaries is not a sign of weakness, but of strength?

President Obama said he'd talk to Iran and he did -- in 2009.

Unfortunately, since then we haven't seen a very serious effort by the US to engage with Iran. President Obama cooled off the "saber-rattling" of the Bush Administration -- that's good. But besides that one diplomatic push in 2009, we haven't much effort to engage with Iran, only ever more harsh sanctions, some of which are hurting innocent Iranian civilians who don't have any say over Iran's nuclear program.

A key reason we haven't seen more diplomatic engagement is right-wing pressure on President Obama from Congress. There are people in Congress who want a war with Iran, so they're determined to sabotage any diplomatic effort that could help prevent war in the future.

But now there's a rare opportunity to push Congress to being more open to pursuing diplomacy with Iran. Iran just had a presidential election, and will have a new president. President Rouhani appealed to Iranian voters by saying: let's try to repair our relationships with the West. The fact that Iran now has a pro-diplomacy president, one with a mandate from Iranian voters to try to repair relationships, creates a rare opening for new diplomatic engagement.

A bipartisan group of Representatives, led by Republican Rep. Dent and Democrat Rep. Price, is circulating a letter to President Obama that says: let's trying engaging with the new Iranian president before we escalate with Iran further.

This letter is backed by J Street and Americans for Peace Now. The letter closes Wednesday.

ACTION: You can urge your Representative to sign the Dent-Price letter by sending your Rep. a note here.



Blue Moon Over Congress:
Opening to Push for Diplomacy with Iran

Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post

(July 12, 2013) -- Sometimes, a comet passes so close to the Earth that it's visible with the naked eye. Sometimes there's a warm, sunny Saturday in late October in Chicago. Sometimes, a close friend gets married.

You wouldn't say, I can't be bothered to go outside to look at the sky, I'm watching CNN. You wouldn't say, it's great that you're getting married, but I'm very busy with work.

Once in a blue moon, there's a good opportunity to try to push the House to be more open to pursuing diplomacy with Iran.

You might think: what's the rush? We can push for diplomacy with Iran later. A month before the next war, we can say, what about diplomacy? Unfortunately, a month before the next war, my right-wing cousins will say, "We already tried that, and it didn't work." You'll say, "When was that?" They'll say, "2009. Sorry you missed it. You were watching CNN."

Often, talking to House offices about being more open to pursuing diplomacy with Iran can feel like that scene in the Matrix where Morpheus shows Neo what the world really looks like. No sun is visible in the sky. (No-one knows for sure exactly why the House is like this about Iran. I have a theory, but when I say what my theory is, my right-wing cousins call me bad names.)

But now there is an opening to talk to Members of the House about diplomacy with Iran.

Iran just had a presidential election. Who knew? So there's going to be a new Iranian president. New guy, opportunity to "reset" US relations with Iran. But wait, there's more. Something quite unexpected happened in the Iranian election. One of the candidates said to Iranian voters, why don't we try to get along better with the West? And the funny thing is, that guy won the election.

So, some Republicans and Democrats in the House, led by Republican Charles Dent and Democrat David Price, are circulating a letter to President Obama saying, why don't we give talks with new guy a chance, before we crank up the confrontation with Iran up to 11?

Now, my right-wing cousins are quick to point out that in the Iranian system, the "president," despite the name, is not actually the top banana, especially when it comes to the country's nuclear program.

But while the Iranian president is not the top banana, that doesn't mean that he has no power to shape how things go, particularly when he has a fresh mandate from Iranian voters to try to get along better with the West.

After all, if it doesn't matter at all who the No. 2 guy is, how come my right-wing cousins got all verklempt when President Obama asked Chuck Hagel to be his Secretary of Defense?

Here's the other reason that this is a unique opportunity: the moxiest machers on the "let's not rush to war with Iran" team are lobbying Members to sign the Dent-Price letter: J Street and Americans for Peace Now are in the House.

I can't promise you that if your Representative signs the Dent-Price letter, we'll never have a war with Iran. But remember February, 2003. Millions of us marched against the US invasion of Iraq. But it was too late. The war train had already left the station.

Imagine if we could get a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Then, when my right-wing cousins try to set a new war train in motion, our team can stand in front of the train and say, "We tried diplomacy, and it did work."

Wouldn't that be a powerful argument to stop a new war train?


Rouhani May Offer Way Out
Of Nuclear Tensions With Iran

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Saideh Lotfian / Al-Monitor

(June 30, 2013) -- The decisive victory of Hassan Rouhani in the June 14 presidential election caught many politicians and commentators by surprise. Iran experts have tried not only to understand the reasons for voter participation, but also predict the foreign policy attitudes and behaviors of the new man in charge of Iran’s executive branch.

It has been argued that the election results should be interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction of the people of Iran with the growing unemployment, high inflation and other economic problems caused by the enormous politico-economic pressures that the Western world and particularly the United States have been exerting on Iran.

However, this may not be the whole story, and in fact others have asserted that many voters demonstrated their desire for more government accountability, strengthening citizens’ organizations and the de-securitization of the public sphere.

In the absence of nationwide public opinion surveys, we cannot be certain which factor or complex set of factors led to one of the highest voter turnout rates (72%) in Iranian presidential elections, and encouraged almost 51% of the voters to cast their ballots in favor of Rouhani.

It is indisputable that a more moderate government will emerge in Tehran, and one can expect a president who will use less fiery rhetoric and move toward tension reduction with the Arab states and the major world powers.

Rouhani is likely to select a team of experienced top Iranian diplomats and experts who will most probably drive Iran’s foreign -- and also nuclear -- policy in a different direction. The decisions made will be based on an assessment of present and future risks to the country’s political system and economic development.

One of the biggest dangers now is that the United States and its allies will misinterpret this significant political shift in Iran as an indication of widespread disillusionment among the Iranian public toward the “clerical regime.” Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity of negotiating with the new Iranian leader, they might continue talking about the controversial “regime change” option which many in the West have openly or covertly been advocating for a long time.

They might assume that increasing the external pressure on Iran would accelerate the regime change by the frustrated Iranian people, who would overthrow the clerical regime.

Indeed, those who think about this revolution do not know that the vast majority of the Iranians, particularly the younger generations, do not have any appetite for a “revolution,” are wary of wars and look to the conflict situations in the periphery of Iran -- in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria -- with uneasiness. This politically ill-defined goal of regime change casts dark clouds over the issue to the point that one may have difficulties in finding where things are or should be.

If the West, Russia and the regional powers are interested in a more peaceful regional security environment; they should avoid hindering the new president’s efforts to have a country that is more economically viable and politically inclined to be more ready for cooperation with the regional states and world powers.

Past efforts by Iran and the P5+1 [the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany] to resolve the nuclear crisis have failed. There is now an optimistic view that the election of Rouhani provides a new opportunity to end the stalemate.

Rouhani has specific experience on nuclear issues as he was the key Iranian nuclear negotiator during 2003-2005 and managed at that time to make progress with the EU3 -- France, Germany and the United Kingdom -- on crucial issues, including voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

Unfortunately, the cooperation and the possibility of an accommodation offered by the Iranian leadership at that time was not considered sufficient by the EU3 and the United States, and eventually Iran was deferred to the UN Security Council.

As a consequence of the past experience, some in Iran may believe that any compromise could have a negative impact on fundamental Iranian national security interests, because they do not trust the United States and the West.

The key questions are what will be the new foreign policy course under President-elect Rouhani and what will be the role of other decision-makers. Many analysts have made a distinction between foreign policies that can be changed by the new government and those presumed to be unchangeable because they are based on the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Even though the process of foreign policymaking remains constant, differences in the personal characteristics of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the newly elected president will change Iran’s foreign policy toward vital issues. In his pre-election debates, Rouhani implied that it is important to insist on Iran’s right of peaceful use of nuclear energy but the determination to expand the country’s nuclear fuel cycle should not come at the expense of other vital programs for economic development.

Considering the lack of trust between the parties involved in the negotiation, and the suspicions of the Iranian leaders about the true intentions of the great powers, any arrangement must take account of the following points: The P5+1 must acknowledge that Iran as a nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty member has all the rights and obligations that are included in the treaty.

The right of conducting uranium enrichment should not be denied, but it might be necessary to impose some temporary constraints -- for example, intrusive inspection of enrichment facilities, limits on percentage of enrichment and a freeze on building new heavy-water nuclear reactors. Iran has already announced willingness to stop its enrichment of 20% uranium.

The declaration of the Iranian leaders that they do not want to build nuclear weapons should be acknowledged. Iran should be ready in any final agreement to allow the verification and monitoring instruments -- including the Additional Protocol -- that will facilitate the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections. Cooperation in the nuclear field should be welcome by Iran and other countries, also to help prevent unwanted, potentially dangerous nuclear accidents.

Some questions about past Iranian activities should be answered to remove a perpetual sword of Damocles over the Iranian nuclear program. In a step-by-step approach, all sanctions against Iran should be removed, starting with the most severe ones that directly affect the welfare of the Iranian people.

The Rouhani government will be expected to respond decisively and creatively to popular demands for prosperity and improving Iran’s foreign relations. The new policymakers cannot ignore the fact that the risky economic mismanagement -- which led to public discontent -- became more problematic because the current government has found itself confronted with a tremendous amount of external pressures.

There is a need for a quick negotiated solution to the nuclear issue to allow the new leadership to concentrate on economic recovery, consolidate power and prevent the disruption of the social and political order. The persistence of tensions in Iran-US relations has been a source of instability in the region.

With the spread of ethnic conflicts and sectarian violence in the Middle East, the security situation has deteriorated. Regional and global security will benefit if a more conciliatory approach in the relations between Iran and the regional and global powers can emerge as a consequence of the important political shift that has happened in Iran.

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, professor of mathematical (theoretical) physics at the University of Milan, is secretary general of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. Saideh Lotfian teaches political science at the University of Tehran and is the chair of the Pugwash Council.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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