On what a Second-Term President Obama should do with Iran

George Washington Political Science Professor Mark Lynch in Foreign Policy:

With military action in the background but not imminent, and sanctions taking a real political and economic toll inside of Iran, now seems to be the right time to begin a serious effort at real talks with Iran over its nuclear program — and to be prepared to take yes for an answer.

, the executive director of the Iranian human rights-focused Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, for the Huffington Post:

But there is still hope. Today, unlike the immediate post-revolutionary years, the Iranian leaders are concerned about their image abroad. They also respond to their critics and deny the routine violation of their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Since 1975, Iran is bound by the ICCPR, which set forth the rights and freedoms essential to an open, safe and pluralistic political system where citizens can be heard and determine their own destiny.

For too many years, the international community, including the United States, has dealt with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its use of violence in foreign policy independently from the abysmal human rights situation inside the country. It is time for a long-term strategy that would seriously challenge the leadership by shifting the focus to their human rights record, the non-representative nature of Iran’s political system and on the rights of citizens to organize and express themselves.

Former senior State Department intelligence analyst, Greg Thielmann, in Arms Control Now:

Any successful solution to the Iran nuclear crisis will have to include Iran’s agreement to again abide by the terms of the Additional Protocol, if not to grant even wider access to IAEA inspectors. As former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen stated in an October 31 email exchange with the author, “[the Additional Protocol] will be indispensable in understanding [Iran’s] enrichment and heavy water programs…”

Various Iranian officials have suggested a willingness to accept the Additional Protocol if Iran’s right to enrichment is made clear. Endorsement of the Additional Protocol by Iraq, one of Iran’s few friendly neighbors, should help to increase pressure on Iran to do likewise.

Iran scholar and Lobe Log contributor, Farideh Farhi:

Unless Khamenei and company are given a way out of the mess they have taken Iran into (with some help from the US and company), chances are that we are heading into a war in the same way we headed to war in Iraq. A recent Foreign Affairs article by Ralf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of the UN special Commission on Iraq, and Malfrid-Braut hegghammer, is a good primer on how this could happen.

The reality is that the current sanctions regime does not constitute a stable situation. First, the instability (and instability is different from regime change as we are sadly learning in Syria) it might beget is a constant force for policy re-evaluation on all sides (other members of the P5+1 included). Second, maintaining sanctions require vigilance while egging on the sanctioned regime to become more risk-taking in trying to get around them. This is a formula for war and it will happen if a real effort at compromise is not made. Inflexibility will beget inflexibility.

Former chief analyst of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center, Paul Pillar, in the National Interest:

On that all-preoccupying matter involving Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians have given ample indication of flexibility on restricting their enrichment of uranium and on much else. But they would be foolish to make unilateral concessions with no prospect of getting anything in return on matters of importance to them.

When someone seems to be adhering to a position that ought not to be a vital interest to them, we should not make the mistake of interpreting this as a mark of obduracy and unreasonableness. More likely it means they are willing to bargain.

Also for the Huffington Post, Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council:

Both Tehran and Washington have realized that their opening offers this past summer were non-starters. Iran wanted all sanctions lifted before it would begin limiting its enrichment program. American sought Iranian concessions upfront only to offer sanctions relief at the very end of the step-by-step process. Moreover, “going small” — that is, demanding less of Iran in order to justify the absence of sanctions relief — was politically unfeasibly.

This gave birth to the idea of ‘Going Big’ — circumventing the politically tricky sequencing and instead putting everything on the table. But somehow, ‘Going Big’ was mysteriously linked to an ultimatum. If the Iranians did not agree to our last (and first) big offer, there would be war.

This would be a serious mistake that would guarantee war. While going bigger may be necessary to reach an agreement, we can’t get a big offer right through a single attempt. If the Iranians presented a big offer to the P5+1 — “or else,” the world would rightly reject it and see it as an attempt to justify Iranian intransigence.

Similarly, Tehran — and the world — will view any US ultimatum as an attempt to create a path towards war. Diplomacy should help avoid war, not lay the groundwork for it.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. There is more to the Middle East than Iran and its alleged bomb-making. And there is more actual violence in the Middle East than that supported by Iran.

    President Obama needs a new policy for Israel/Palestine and now has a slight push in that direction from a Democratic Party less friendly (subservient) to Israel than formerly — as evidenced at the Democratic Convention vote on Jerusalem.

    The president has a chance now to push for enforcement of the international law of belligerent occupation by demanding that Israel remove settlers, settlements, and wall. This would be a gigantic change, would displease the hard-line Zionists, please all peaceniks, but leave Israel’s “security” (and continuing occupation) in place.

    It is hard to see how President Obama can advance on Global Warming (the nation’s and the world’s number one problem) or on I/P peace unless he sees his way to ignore the (I hope “heretofore”) power of BIG-MONEY in USA’s politics.

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