A group of 35 leading security experts, scholars, and former government officials have sent a letter to President Obama applauding the recent diplomatic overtures between Iran and the United States and pledging their support as negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program commence.
All thirty-five are members of The Iran Project, which has issued several reports in the past examining the effects of sanctions and possible military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program. The luminaries who signed onto the letter include former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, Council on Foreign Relations chair emeritus Leslie Gelb, and Ambassador Thomas Pickering. In their message, the signers laud the recent signs of an opening from Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the willingness of the United States to test those signs.
Those approaches alone should not be taken as a victory in and of themselves, the group cautions. “The hard work of diplomacy begins now,” the letter warns, noting the years of distrust between the United States and Iran. President Obama also noted the hurdles that would have to be overcome when speaking on Iran in his speech before the United Nations in September. “I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight,” Obama said at the time, “suspicions run too deep. But I do believe if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, this can serve as a step down a long road towards a different relationship.”
“You will undoubtedly face opposition to your decision to engage Iran,” the letter continues. “We support this new policy and pledge to help our fellow Americans appreciate the ambitious and transformative course you have chosen to build a more peaceful and more cooperative environment in the Middle East.” Already conservatives in the United States are scoffing at the idea that Iran’s overtures are anything but a trick, ironically echoing their Iranian counterpart’s views that the United States is likewise lying about any deal being possible.
Despite the skepticism in both countries, the experts believe the “diplomatic option is the right one at this time in view of the initiatives taken by the Iranian government that were made possible in part by your past policies.” Those initiatives will be put to the test when the next round of negotiations between Iran and the international community in Geneva, Switzerland later this month. While there, Iran is reportedly considering proposing a new set of confidence building measures to the P5+1 — the group consisting of France, China, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and United States who have taken the lead on negotiating with Tehran. This could include, according to Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, himself a former nuclear negotiator, handing over surplus amounts of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
Both sides have expressed their hopes that a breakthrough could come in the near future, as soon as six months from now, allowing for a solution that both sides support. Paving the way for this possibility have been a series of unprecedented high-level interactions between American and Iranian officials. On the sidelines of the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met face-to-face during a meeting of the P5+1. Only days later, Presidents Obama and Rouhani engaged in the first phone call between the people in their roles since 1979.