Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

Editor’s note: The National Iranian-American Council has released a letter, signed by 30 foreign policy practitioners, calling on the U.S., Europe, and Iran to take steps to reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf.

July 30, 2019

As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.

The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy

  • The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

  • Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap

  • Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.

Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations

  • Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels

  • The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high.

The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy

  • To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

  • The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

  • Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.


Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame

Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation

John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners,  a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985)

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs-Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University

Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs

Barbara Slavin

John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Guest Contributor

Articles by guest writers.



  1. In an ideal world, if we had civilized people, or people with an ounce of civilization or love in their blood, you could probably say that you could come to some sort of compromise. These people worship death, and believe that the after life is more important than now. The route actually are pre-islamic and can be found in Manichean doctrines.

    All you wise and intelligent people know what I’m saying is academic. You know that that they do not have the culture, the sophistication, the love that we have. We are not angry people, we know the meaning of love, we do not like to wage war, we believe in non-violent regime change

    These people do not believe in the Life in the Here and Now. For them there is a very dark ideology. They know that they should never compromise and that eventually the more civilized people will compromise.

    All the people who have written the above document are extremely naive to think that you can negotiate with such a dark force. Dark force only understands dark force, it does not understand light. You are all enlightened people.

    The secular Iranian people have been persecuted for the past 40 years, because the world media has tried to negotiate with these horrible people. Do you just want to carry on negotiating for another 40 years? Pressure must be put on this regime so that it cannot fund itself. They must then fight amongst themselves and self-destruct. They only have anger and have no love. Let them release their anger to themselves.

    Maybe you’re angry at United States and other people who are are interested in putting pressure on the Ayatollahs. But remember the Ayatollahs are much worse for the Iranian people than anybody else and they are at the root of all these problems. They have used fear and anger for 1400 years and subjugated the Iranian nation.

    But now the Iranian nation does not know fear and is secular. The Iranian nation now knows about it pre-Islamic roots and is proud of its ancient Ahuramazdan spirit. A new Iran is born out of this darkness, with much deeper roots and much more enlightened vision for the future. Yes it is quite ironic that we needed such a demon to confront, to then seek an inner peace that is thousands of years old. It has been a blessing in disguise.

  2. Unfortunately the Zionists (and neo-cons) are in the way

  3. It is a long wish list and somewhat unrealistic in the current situation. Suggest small small steps that may lead to deescalation like letting Pompeo go to Tehran and give a TV interview. Let him say what he has to say and let the Iranian interviewer question/contradict him on his points. What are they afraid of?
    Maziar Hashemi is not the right interviewer, there are thousands that are much better. This is not about asking Pompeo to talk about BLM, but the nuclear agreement and sanctions.

  4. The US has been and still is at war with the Iranians since the Iranians deposed their corrupt stooge a little over 4 decades ago! The war against the Iranians has been escalated for the past 2.5-3 years. So what’s left to negotiate about between an aggressor and a victim?
    So the intention of this petition is for Iran to capitulate and negotiate a peace plan designed by Pompeo-Bolton and apologies for being the victim? The one sided negotiations are nonsense and DOA! The results of an extensive negotiation, JCPOA, are already known!

  5. The authors of this letter are well-meaning people. I admired their reasoning and have read many opinion pieces they have written. However, their current prescription for de-escalation is wrong and would certainly lead to war in the very near future. Iran must confront the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in the Gulf now. Importantly, they have to do so now under the maximum pressure campaign.

    It is hubris that led Trump to leave JCPOA. Every US election, Republican Candidates keep promising to hurt Iran somehow. Donald Trump is the only one who actually is carrying these threats through. The foundation of these threats are false beliefs that the US has the power to compel the rest of the world to attempt to destroy another country at the behest of another group of country. The US and its regional allies will not relent until there is civil strife in Iran that weakens that country and empower Israel and Saudi Arabia as the leading Middle East countries. Iran has no choice but to disavow Republican Presidential candidates of this false notion.

    There were election in France, Germany, Brazil and everywhere else, in none of those countries did their future leaders so conceited to believe that they have the right to determine what sort of government should run Iran. As Pompeo stated the goal of the policy is to get Iran to “dismantle” their nuclear industry and behave as a ” normal” country. Normal in this sense is whatever the US states is normal. Pompeo recently demand to visit Tehran so ” he can tell the Iranian people how he believes they should be governed” . It is in the same vein he had ask to come to Iran to monitor the presidential elections. Iran/Persia is a nation of close to 82 million people. Imagine then, in what language would Mr. Pompeo speaks to his Persian/Iranian slaves, English, farsi, would he need a translator or would he just demand that Iranian learn English for the arrival of great king Pompeo.. If Iran accept the well-meaning suggestion of these authors they would have to accept the legitimacy of the nonsense America have been spewing about Iran, they are merely postponing a reckoning for next Republican President to demand further obedience. Iran has no choice but to fight otherwise it will be destroyed as a nation.

    Peace cannot be maintained when those who will seek to destroy you believe that you are weak. The reason Pompeo/Bolton/Trump left the JCPOA is not because it was a bad deal but because they believe Iran is weak and fearful. Therefore, no matter what agreement is reached today under Trump, will be abrogated by the next Republican President. Iran must disavowed the US of the notion that the strait of hormuz can remain open in the event of war. Iran must disavowed Israel of the notion that they can prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapon by force. Iran must disavowed the US of the notion that Europe will fall in line behind them if they start a military conflict with Iran. These are essential for peace and none of them can be accomplished by returning to JCPOA compliance in exchange for suspension of US sanction. JCPOA compliance should be exchanged for a full European decision to create an alternative trading system that bypass American Economic Hegemony. This is the cure for our Hubris not Iranian capitulation. The German Government refusal to join the US gulf security initiative is a good start. Iran must be willing to lose some lives in an escalation to protect their country.

    Iran must gradually continue to shed JCPOA commitments until Europe, China, Russia, and the rest of the world do something to confront Republican hubris in foreign policy and confront Israel and Saudi Arabian recklessness.

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