A group of former officials from across the foreign policy apparatus on Monday sent President Obama a letter urging him to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran once its new president is sworn-in.
Signed by 29 former government officials, military officers, diplomats, and national security experts — including former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, CAP Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb and Iran specialist under Presidents Ford and Carter Gary Sick — the letter calls for the pursuit of new bilateral and multilateral talks with Iran on a range of issues. The window for such talks comes after the election of Hassan Rouhani to become Iran’s next president, which has been cautiously viewed as a potential chance for an exit ramp from the nearly decade-long crisis over the country’s nuclear program. The most moderate of the candidates allowed to run, Rouhani has made clear his desire to reset relations with many of the Islamic Republic’s neighbors and reach out to the West as well.
In light of this, the letter delivered Monday calls Rouhani’s election a “major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts” to end the standoff. At present, Iran maintains that it possesses the right to enrich uranium, defying international demands that it halt enrichment until confirmation that the program is for peaceful — and not military — purposes. The United Nations Security Council has levied several rounds of sanctions on Iran as a result of this defiance, while the United States and its allies have taken crippling unilateral economic measures against Tehran. This policy of using only sticks to prompt a change in Iranian behavior, however, has been questioned for its seeming lack of carrots as a potential reward for agreeing to cooperate with international requirements.
“While it will take time to secure an agreement to resolve all concerns, diplomacy will only succeed if we are prepared to leverage existing sanctions and other incentives in exchange for reciprocal Iranian concessions,” the letter says, echoing previous calls from experts on Iran, adding that it is “critical” for both sides to avoid provocative actions that could undermine diplomacy. For the U.S.’ part, the letter urges that “no further sanctions should be imposed or considered at this time as they could empower hardliners opposed to nuclear concessions at the expense of those seeking to shift policy in a more moderate direction.”
Unlike a new round of multilateral sanctions, which seem unlikely in the near future, the chance of a new round of sanctions from the U.S. is all too possible. Packages containing new unilateral sanctions against Iran are already making their way through both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Rather than heaping more pressure on Iran, the letter argues, the U.S. should be prepared to come to the table with new ideas. “After assessing the orientation of the new Iranian government, the U.S. and partners should prepare to offer a new set of proposals to limit Iran’s enrichment and nuclear materials stockpiles combined with stringent oversight and verification measures,” they write. Their letter joins other efforts in recent weeks to persuade President Obama to reach out to Rouhani, including an op-ed from Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jim McDermott (D-WA). A bipartisan letter from Reps. Charles Dent (R-PA) and David Price (D-NC) calling for renewed outreach to Iran is also currently being circulated among members of the House of Representatives.
While he won’t be sworn-in until August 3, Rouhani already appears to be trying to make some changes, looking to transfer the nuclear file from the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Al-Monitor reports, and instead placing it within the purview of the office of the President. Currently all decision-making with regards to Iran’s nuclear program rests within the hands of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, while its implementation and negotiations with the West are run through the SNSC.