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.