Last month in a barely noticed op-ed prominent voices Lee H. Hamilton, Gary Hart and Matthew Hodes strongly recommended focusing on “shared interests” and the “broader issues” that have marred U.S.-Iran relations since the Iranian revolution during renewed talks with Tehran. They reference missed windows of opportunity and expert analysis that we’ve highlighted here before from diplomatic cold war veterans Thomas Pickering and William Luers and the national security-focused Stimson Center before concluding that hawkish rhetoric should be resisted in favor of serious diplomacy:
As we approach the next round of negotiations, we must beware of extreme voices that will want to limit the conversation to an expansion of threats — a structure of confrontation or capitulation. Bellicose words can box us in just as they can box in the Iranians, making a military confrontation more likely. We would be better served by quiet, frank discussions about our respective interests and our potentially shared interests. We should never forget that during the Cold War, we faced an adversary that was equipped and prepared to destroy us and our allies. But while we never let our guard down, we nevertheless looked for opportunities to cooperate. Eventually, we found areas of mutual interest that helped build confidence in our ability to manage that complicated relationship. That policy worked for us during the Cold War; it should work for us with a regional actor today.
The authors’ bottom line is that any deal will require moving beyond the confines of the nuclear issue and working to realign Iran’s behavior and relationship with the international community without increasing the probability of military confrontation. Their words are all the more weighty because of their impressive credentials. Rep. Hamilton represented Indiana for 34 years and was the ranking Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He previously headed the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, co-chaired the Iraq Study Group Report and was the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Sen. Hart was the former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and has been heavily involved in national security consulting since leaving politics. For his part, international relations expert Matthew Hodes is the Executive Director of the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America where Hamilton and Hart are advisory board members. (Interestingly, an IPS News investigation revealed that Hamilton had been paid a “substantial amount” in 2011 to appear at panel for the U.S.-terrorist designated Mujahideen-e-khalq (MEK). Hamilton told reporter Barbara Slavin that he was not aware of the group’s true nature at the time.)
Their article’s title, “Enlarging the Frame”, sums up what some analysts are arguing needs to be done as expectations for the next round of talks flip flop between periods of optimism and pessimism almost daily based on each and every development that is reported. Writes Lobe Log’s own Peter Jenkins who previously served as the United Kingdom’s former permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA):
US frustration over Iranian refusal to meet bilaterally is understandable. But Iran’s position is not incomprehensible. The Supreme Leader has made very clear that he has no confidence in the US. “[Americans] break their promises very easily. they feel no shame…they simply utter lies.” The trust deficit is not one-sided. Mutual confidence-building is required.
Surely the right call at this point is not to tear up the script and start afresh, but to try to come up with a better package of incentives and to set up a mechanism that permits intensive negotiation?
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