Today marks a first step toward fixing the diplomatic vacuum between Iran and America. Talks are taking place in the isolated Villa Le Saugy between Iran, the members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and a representative of the EU. Since the 1979 hostage situation, the United States has not maintained an embassy or consulate within Iran. Over the last thirty years, the old and empty American embassy building has transformed into a landmark of Iran’s anti-American foreign policy.
Iran and the US are now finally at the same negotiating table. Heading into the diplomatic talks, a fragile Iran is still recovering from a turbulent election. The US is trying to implement a whole new direction in foreign policy, reversing course from the Bush administration on Middle Eastern diplomatic efforts. The P5 + 1 is concerned by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which the Iranian government claims are peaceful.
Trita Parsi, of the National Iranian American Council, had this advice on US policy concerning Iran in a recent Foreign Policy article:
The Obama administration should avoid repeating the key mistake of the Bush administration, for which Iran was solely viewed through the prism of its nuclear program.
More recently in the New York Times, he cautioned against the use of sanctions, a threat heard loudly from the Hill:
Unlike diplomacy, sanctions have a clear, decades-long track record of failure. In 1995, before Iran had any enrichment plants, comprehensive trade and investment sanctions were imposed on Iran to curb its nuclear activities. Nearly 15 years later, Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance. The only thing that has been curbed is the belief in sanctions as an effective stand-alone instrument to address this problem….
Diplomacy with Iran will be more successful if the existing links between the nuclear issue and the other areas where Iranian behavior creates challenges for the U.S. — including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran’s abysmal human rights record — are utilized to amass leverage rather than ignored. The U.S. has leverage as well as tangible things it can offer Iran in terms of regional security, and it can challenge Iran’s effort to question American regional leadership by addressing rather than shying away from Iran’s systematic human rights abuses.
Concerning the prospect of sanctions on his country, Iran’s opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi spoke out on Monday:
We are against any sanctions against our nation. [They] will impose agonies on a nation who suffers enough from miserable statesmen.
The country is on the verge of crises which will mostly hurt the poor as a result of wrong and adventurous foreign policies of the government from which our people suffer.
Peace Action West’s political director, Rebecca Griffin, has repeatedly written about the many reasons why sanctions on Iran stand no chance of working. Again, in today’s San Jose Mercury News, she furthers the argument for diplomacy.
Remember, frosty relationships take time to thaw. In 1953, the United States, through the CIA, toppled the first democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh was perhaps the most pro-American leader Iran has ever had. Short-sighted considerations by American and British leaders 50 years ago set US-Iran relations reeling to this day. Already, members of Congress are proposing actions that will set relations back again. Rep. Eric Cantor, the minority whip, begs us to harbor no illusions about Iran and joins Sen. Evan Bayh in pushing for heavy sanctions. Sen. John McCain is even going as far as advocating regime change, though not of the military type. These tired strategies have been proven failures time and again and should not be acted upon now.
If you find it difficult to parse through the arguments given by politicians and the media, Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, today released a nice checklist on what is real and what is popular myth about Iran.
It’s time for our country to explore new models of cooperation, diplomacy, and engagement with the peoples of the world to make the US more secure and help solve global problems. Diplomacy is much harder work than saber-rattling, but ultimately has the best chance of thawing tensions.