Friday, August 16, 2013

Calls for Diplomacy with Iran Come from Unlikely Sources

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
(Photo Credit: Abdolvahed Mirzazadeh)

As Congress and Israeli leaders continue to make threats and take actions that serve to dismiss and prevent any possibility of real diplomacy between Iran and the West, namely the United States, a number of unexpected voices are now chiming in on the side of moderation, pragmatism and a negotiation.

Iranian rhetoric since the June election and recent Cabinet appointments of President Hassan Rouhani's new administration signal a strong desire for renewed talks and a reduction in international tensions. Earlier this month, Rouhani stated in a press conference that Iran is "ready to immediately resume talks on nuclear issue," explaining that the "key" to success for the United States "to understand that threats are not the solution. We can resolve the nuclear dispute if all sides have the political will."

Rouhani added, "Actions matter more than words. My administration will defiantly reciprocate actions by U.S.", which he says has been "sending mixed messages" due to "the warmongering lobby," which "has the interest of another country in mind" and "opposes dialogue and is imposing its will…" Essentially, Rouhani concluded, "Statements by White House do not match the actions we see from them. All we want US to do is to hear the message of Iranian people in the recent elections and end sending these mixed messages."

Other Iranian politicians have echoed the president's sentiments. Esmail Kowsari, a member of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said last week, "Once the United States exhibits a confidence-building and realistic behavior, the Islamic Republic of Iran will take a proper decision concerning talks with the U.S.", adding, "What is important for us is the US administration’s practical response and not statements."

"Therefore," Kowsari said, "no decision can be made about negotiations with the United States unless such a change of behavior is displayed by Americans."

Mansour Haqiqatpour, Vice-Chairman of the same parliamentary commission, told the press, "Unfortunately, the U.S. behavior is totally hypocritical and dishonest and the country is pursuing an inappropriate diplomatic trend with regard to establishing relations with Iran."

"In order to talk with Iran," he suggested, "the Americans should renounce their paradoxical behavior and also avoid adopting stances in bad temper so that the process of talks between the two countries can be shaped based on realities."

It is wholly unsurprising that Iranian leaders would look for concrete changes from Washington before taking its alleged overtures seriously. For the past four years, as Reza Nasri has explained in Tehran Bureau, the Obama administration's notion of diplomacy with Iran has been "predicated on intimidation, illegal threats of military action, unilateral 'crippling' sanctions, sabotage, and extrajudicial killings of Iran's brightest minds." These actions demonstrate Washington's goal of complete Iranian capitulation and even regime change, rather than dialogue based upon mutual respect and international law.

Surprisingly, however, the editorial board of the usually hawkish Washington Post last week called upon the West to "resume negotiations soon to explore the depth of Mr. Rouhani’s seriousness and whether his election has come with room to maneuver," couching its appeal in the usual alarmist terms that "talks must proceed with urgency" due to the progress of Iran's nuclear program. Still, they argued, "Western powers should swallow hard and show up ready to talk. Mr. Rouhani's demand for mutual respect is not unreasonable."

Even former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, a vocal proponent of continued collective punishment against the Iranian people, took to the oped pages of the Israeli press last week to express a similar view. "Israel should support the launch of negotiations as soon as possible rather than make it more difficult for the sides to return to the negotiation table," he wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, the state's leading daily, condemning the dismissive remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran's new president, which imply to "Iranian voters that their actions are insignificant; that there is no chance their situation will improve and that Israel is determined to delegitimize their choice."

"I do not believe Rohani would establish a moderate government unless he knew there was a genuine willingness on the part of the US to negotiate with him," Halevy continued, adding that "Israel officially announce its support for negotiations between the US and Iran" and "add a word of praise for the Iranian people," recognizing the "dignity and honor of the masses in Tehran."

In true Israeli fashion, of course, Halevy suggests that, all the while, "Israel will continue to have its finger on the trigger."

Furthermore, in addition to the advocacy of former diplomats like William H. Luers, Jim Walsh and Thomas R. Pickering - who have long sought to advance a different path forward with Iran and published a comprehensive plan for a new approach this month in the New York Review of Books - a new report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) urges the Obama administration to be more flexible in its consideration of negotiations and potential solutions with Iran.

The report, titled "Great Expectations: Iran's New President and the Nuclear Talks," calls for "Washington to engage in direct bilateral talks with Iran alongside the P5+1 and to be more forthcoming in the negotiations – by offering greater sanctions relief in exchange for Iranian concessions and describing an 'end-state' that would include de facto recognition of Tehran's 'right' to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes," writes IPS's Jim Lobe.

The ICG report not only suggests the scope of discussions between the West and Iran be expanded to include regional security issues, such as the current situations in Syria and Egypt. Perhaps most importantly, however, the report states that "now is not the time to ramp up sanctions," as such actions "could well backfire, playing into the hands of those in Tehran wishing to prove that Iran's policies have no impact on the West's attitude, and thus that a more flexible position is both unwarranted and unwise."

It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will heed these calls or continue to follow the lead of a lobby-influenced Congress and an obsessed Israeli prime minister.


Originally posted at Muftah.


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