As you have probably noticed, one thing that has been lacking in the national dialogue around US relations with Iran is a clear picture of what effective diplomacy with Iran would look like, and what it could achieve. The Bush administration has been misleading the American public by implying that they have tried and failed to engage Iran diplomatically. We need to articulate a vision of what a more positive and productive relationship with Iran would look like.
One way we have been working to move this message is encouraging members of Congress to utilize every opportunity (Op Eds, floor speeches, media releases) to offer a clear alternative to the Bush administration’s Iran policy. We were pleased to see that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has taken leadership on this issue by publishing an Op Ed calling for direct talks with Iran in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:
By contrast, serious diplomacy, given the right timing and the right opportunity, can lead to progress. Our efforts in North Korea show that even the hardest knot can be unraveled with patience and effort.
So what should we do?
There are reports coming out of Tehran that suggest that the standoff doesn’t always have to be. Reducing tensions could yield positive results, opening the door to new possibilities.
So I believe now is the moment for a bold U.S. diplomatic move to begin direct official talks with Iranian officials. And I believe the Bush administration’s insistence that we wait until Iran suspends its enrichment program is counterproductive. This policy has given Iran incentives to increase its enrichment capacity under ever more hostile conditions.
The goals of such a negotiation would be to:
— Find a way to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, especially by reaching an agreement to put more arms inspectors on the ground to monitor the entire Iranian nuclear program. As the Iranians continue to expand their nuclear capacity, we must increase our access rather than face the expulsion of all inspectors.
— Seek a major reduction or elimination of Iran’s support for terrorists groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, and other Iran efforts to disrupt the region – in both Israel and Iraq.
— Establish normalized relations with Iran, reducing the regime’s threat to its neighbors and to the world.
When U.S. administrations have taken bold diplomatic initiatives, the payoff has been significant. The decision of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon to engage the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s was visionary. The Bush administration’s decision to work with the North Koreans directly to resolve the nuclear issue has begun to bear fruit.
Yet, this administration has taken a strikingly different tack with Iran. It’s been talk of "World War III" and of sanctions. We need to bring Iran to the table, not back it into a corner. There have been some nascent steps at fostering democracy in Iran. Unfortunately, these have led to more government crackdowns than openings.
This is an historic moment. The United States is the only nation that can lead this effort. We don’t need to – and shouldn’t – do it alone. The process is likely to be painful and difficult, but the rewards significant. And one day, it could lead to a more stable and peaceful Middle East.
With a presidential election in progress, and an administration that shows little sign of changing its Iran policy, this is a critical time to be getting this message out. We encourage other members of Congress and opinion leaders to follow Sen. Feinstein’s lead and help build a public mandate for direct, unconditional talks with Iran.