How Obama should talk to Iran

Trita Parsi writes: Just 13 minutes into his presidency, Barack Obama indirectly reached out to Iran in his inaugural address, offering America’s hand of friendship if Tehran would unclench its fist. After eight years of the George W. Bush administration’s ideological contempt for diplomacy with America’s foes, it was a bold move born out of necessity, not desire.

But Obama’s diplomacy has fallen short. After two rounds of talks in October 2009, in which Tehran refused to accept a U.S. confidence-building measure to exchange its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a medical research reactor, the sanctions track was activated. Ever since, Iran and the United States have been on a confrontational path. Washington has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and isolated Iran politically. In turn, the Iranians have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, amassed more low-enriched uranium and begun enrichment at a facility deep underground.

Rather than resolving the nuclear issue, Iran and the United States are inching closer to a military confrontation. But war is not inevitable. Diplomacy, which the Obama administration prematurely abandoned, can still succeed.

“Our Iran diplomacy was a gamble on a single roll of the dice,” a senior State Department official told me in 2010. In short, it either had to work right away or not at all. In fact, six months after the U.S. talks collapsed, Turkey and Brazil secured a version of the fuel swap that Obama had sought.

Fearing that the failure of the U.S. talks would eventually lead to war, Turkey and Brazil stepped in to persuade Iran to accept the American benchmarks for the fuel swap. To the surprise of many in the White House, Turkey and Brazil succeeded.

But by then, it was too late. The Obama administration was already on the path to sanctions. Brazil and Turkey felt snubbed, temporarily chilling their relations with Washington. (Brazil has since turned its focus to other issues, but Turkey is still involved as an occasional mediator with Iran.)

Instead of continuing toward a war the U.S. military doesn’t want, we should double down on diplomacy, in part by emulating Turkey and Brazil’s efforts. In light of news reports this past week that Iran would be open to talks later this month with the P5+1 negotiating group — China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States — here are five ways we can learn from Turkey and Brazil’s interactions with Iran.

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4 thoughts on “How Obama should talk to Iran

  1. delia ruhe

    Washington would have to get Bibi’s permission first — and that would not be forthcoming. I am expecting a war.

  2. Ian Arbuckle

    That there is a compromise on the position of Iran’s nuclear program that can be negotiated to the satisfaction of Tehran and Washington is pure hyperbola.
    1, Iran has every right to all cycles of enrichment of Uranium for peaceful application to nuclear energy and research.
    2, Despite suspensions and accusations, the IAEA has no evidence of deviation of nuclear fuel to a military application in Iran. All fuel has been accounted for.

    Therefore the present sanctions are totally unjustified and represent a false path to pressure Iran. While the real agenda is to cause regime change. Such a regime change is desirable to America and Israel principally because of Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas, and the fear of a rise of Shiia influence, spreading to Iraq, and throughout the Persian Gulf states, especially in such dictatorship states allied to Britain and America like, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia with important Shiia populations.

    The nuclear issue is and always has been therefore a canard, in which Israel is made to play the role of the uncontrollable bad cop while the US pretends to be reasonable while in fact it has gathered three aircraft carrier groups, the Carl Vinson, the John C Stennis and the Abraham Lincoln (which is outside the straits in the Indian Ocean within strike distance of 80% of so of Iran at the ready. The Pentagon is substantially building up its combat power around Iran, stationing nearly 15,000 troops in Kuwait – two Army infantry brigades and a helicopter unit-.

    All this fire power ready to direct at Iran while, shouting that it has a hard time holding back Mr. Netanyahu from attacking Iran.

    Regime change in Iran is deeply related, to NATO plans to invade Syria as a way to get at Iran. In an interview on press tv, Russia’s Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s National Security Council (and former head of the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB): ” was specific. “The main strike forces will be supplied not by France, Britain and Italy, but possibly by neighboring Turkey.” He said that the first step will be to create a no-fly zone over Syria in order to create a sanctuary on Syrian soil close to the Turkish border for mercenaries who can be labelled as Syrian rebels. In sum, it is a “Libya”-type western intervention charioted by Turkey.

    Patrushev said military escalation is also likely over Iran and there is “real danger” of a US strike, pointing out that tensions over Syria are actually related to the Iran question. “They want to punish Damascus not so much for the repression of the opposition but rather for its refusal to break off relations with Tehran.”

    With China and Russia as well as China Japan And Japan and Russia agreeing to own currency (non-dollar) transactions for energy, and with India not agreeing to curtail oil purchase from Iran. The USA’s options are now running short, as is the credibility of the nuclear/sanctions charade. The US is loosing its battle for imperial survival and knows it and all that it has left in the bag of tricks is the military big guns (again).

    The bad cop Israel is there to provoke and set the trigger, even if necessary pull it. Unfortunately the game is not only obvious. It is lost before the first shot is fired.

  3. BillVZ

    “Washington has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and isolated Iran politically.”

    The U.S. Government can trick Americans into believing that the U.S. is on the side of Freedom and Democracy even as it works against it,but it cannot fool the citizens in those nations it seeks to suppress.Obama signed new measures on New Year’s Eve that, if fully implemented, would make it impossible for most countries to pay for Iranian oil.According to the AP the sanctions are causing real hardship on the streets, where prices for basic imported goods are soaring, the rial currency has plummeted. In regards to Iraq and the people of that nation ,there was no question that U.S. planners knew what the awful impact of the sanctions would be .An US expert in 2003 estimated that the sanctions had already killed between 343,900 and 529,000 young children and infants.
    Yet the pundits and foreign policy experts can say with pride the United States does not target(for assination) foreign nationals and especially officials of those governments. George Bush even said so).
    Of course in the name of Freedom and Democracy it can brake the back of any sovereign country which does not comply with its wishes easily in other ways.
    Sanctions and their impact on the very livelihood of a country and the implications to the people of that country are perfectly acceptable and even honorable , it is just assination in a differnt form- the decimation of a country and its people via economic sanctions and political isolation.

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