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Enlarging the Frame

Posted: 05/21/2012 4:25 pm

With the next round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran coming up on May 23rd in Baghdad, we know that the parties have concluded further talks could be useful. But it still appears that the central thrust of the P5+1 (the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, France and Germany) will be limited to immediate concerns over Iran's nuclear program and not the underlying issues that define Iran's relationship with the international community. While we must hope that approach bears fruit, we must not lose sight of the wider frame that represents the more strategic approach, and just possibly, offers a higher likelihood of long term success.

We already know what one version of negotiations limited to the nuclear agenda can produce. In 2010, Brazil and Turkey brokered a potential deal with Iran, consistent with Iran's existing obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that would have dealt with the enrichment issue currently under discussion but the U.S. government rejected that approach, choosing to pursue a stricter sanctions regime in the U.N. Security Council. At the same time, we also have evidence of what broader, more comprehensive negotiations might look like. In 2003, a memo, provided by the then-Swiss Ambassador to Iran, described the outline of a comprehensive U.S.-Iran negotiation process. The U.S. government questioned its legitimacy and took no action. Regardless of its provenance, the memo provided an illustration of the critical interests, the underlying issues, both for the U.S. and for Iran. Any negotiation with the Iranians over their nuclear program will stand a better chance of success if the broader issues that have created tensions since 1979, especially Iran's role in the Middle East region, can be resolved.

What interests would the U.S. and the West want to promote and protect? Paraphrasing the memo, we would want an Iran that had no nuclear weapons or weapons program, with verification from IAEA without obstruction; we would want Iran to end its support to terror groups, including but not limited to Hamas and Hezbollah; we would want Iran to end its efforts to thwart Arab-Israeli peace and accept the two-state solution concept and; we would want an end to any effort to de-stabilize governments in the region and cooperation in efforts of the international community in Iraq and Afghanistan. Put simply, the U.S. will insist that Iran behave like a responsible neighbor in the region and submit itself to appropriate scrutiny to prove it is behaving in that manner.

What interests would the Iranians want to promote and protect? Iran would want an end to efforts to de-stabilize the current regime and acceptance into the international community of nations; Iran would want a lifting of all sanctions; Iran would want access to peaceful nuclear technology and; Iran would want Western recognition of Iranian security interests in the region. Put simply, Iran will want to normalize its status in the world and feel secure from any threats of regime change.

Thomas Pickering and William Luers, respected former U.S. diplomats, used a similar line of thought. In a recent article they used as a point of reference Nixon's visit to China in 1972 and described the anecdote in which Nixon wrote down what the Chinese would want, what we would want and what we both would want, describing this list as Nixon's "analytical pillars." Applying that framework to U.S.-Iran relations, they suggested a set of shared interests that one could easily take from the aims described above. They suggested that both Iran and the United States would want stability in the region, the end of terrorism, the reincorporation of Iran into the international community, and no war. Barry Blechman of the Stimson Center has also weighed in, suggesting a broader agenda that would include the issue of nuclear weapons. Far from being a sign of weakness, our willingness to offer both carrots and sticks would show our confidence. The Iranians would know that there is an alternative to war or capitulation; at the same time we would not remove military options from our list of contingencies should comprehensive negotiations fail.

As we approach the next round of negotiations, we must beware of extreme voices that will want to limit the conversation to an expansion of threats -- a structure of confrontation or capitulation. Bellicose words can box us in just as they can box in the Iranians, making a military confrontation more likely. We would be better served by quiet, frank discussions about our respective interests and our potentially shared interests. We should never forget that during the Cold War, we faced an adversary that was equipped and prepared to destroy us and our allies. But while we never let our guard down, we nevertheless looked for opportunities to cooperate. Eventually, we found areas of mutual interest that helped build confidence in our ability to manage that complicated relationship. That policy worked for us during the Cold War; it should work for us with a regional actor today.

Sen. Hart and Rep. Hamilton are members of the Advisory Board of the Partnership for a Secure America, a group founded by Rep. Hamilton and Sen. Warren Rudman in 2005 to promote bipartisan approaches in U.S. foreign policy and national security policy. Matthew Hodes is the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Secure America.

 
 
 

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