The Challenge of U.S – Iranian Negotiations

By Jim Matlack

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

For most Americans the basis of U.S.-Iranian relations lies in events that took place exactly forty-four years ago—the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and the long imprisonment of U.S. diplomats. This episode bred persistent distrust and enmity. Most Iranians see the relationship between the two governments filtered through their resentment over events in 1953 when the United States led the overthrow of a popularly elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh and the restoration of the Shah to power. The Shah was toppled in 1979 by revolutionary forces that created the current Islamic-led Iranian regime. Continue reading

Next Steps with Iran

By Welling Hall

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

The President has been alluding to the different memories that Americans and Iranians have of their past relationship (thank you Joe Volk!). Notably, in his speech to the General Assembly, the President was echoing some of the sentiments that JFK made in his olive-wielding speech to the Soviets at American University in 1963. Changing the narrative from one of Inherent Bad Faith to one in which it is possible to think about areas of common interest has to be part of the diplomatic game plan not only in relations with Iran, but in talking about the relationship with suspicious domestic partners (like Congress). Indeed, it is hard to imagine how relations with Iran can improve much so long as the President is constrained by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010. You can’t do much negotiating with your right hand when your left hand is targeting the potential business partner with economic restrictions that are intended to be crippling. Continue reading

US-Iran Diplomacy — 2 Essential Next Steps

by Joe Volk

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

Beth & I are in Vietnam as I reply to your questions about the U.S. – Iran diplomacy initiative.  Today’s (Oct. 30th) news says that former V.P. Dick Cheney called for a US war on Iran.  That brings back memories. Dick Cheney supported the US war in Vietnam, avoided military service at the time, and went to work in the White House.  I opposed the US war, refused to go with my army unit to Vietnam, and went to work for Quakers.  We disagreed then on Vietnam; we disagree now on Iran. Though very different countries, the Vietnam case might have something to teach us about Iran. Continue reading

A Shared Security Future in the Middle East?

By Bridget Moix

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

Can the recent return to diplomacy between Washington and Tehran be sustained, and even expanded to include broader regional issues, like curbing violence in Syria and Afghanistan? Or will the distrust of decades between the two nations prove too great an obstacle to real peacemaking?

Let’s first recognize the remarkable shift in relations that recent engagements between US and Iranian officials represent. Earlier this year, the two nations seemed on the brink of war. FCNL was lobbying hard that “war is not the answer” and to just keep the option of diplomacy on the table as the U.S. Congress imposed a continuous barrage of painful sanctions on Iran and the administration kept the door closed on direct engagement. The possibility of a US war against Iran seemed both real and urgent. Continue reading

Finding a Way Forward With Iran

By Doug Bennett

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

This fall there are glimmers of hope for better relations with Iran.  There has even been a recent telephone exchange between the Presidents of the two countries. Are these glimmers just fool’s gold, or might there be real possibilities?

In recent years, a key issue in contention between the U.S. and Iran has been the prospect of Iran’s becoming a nuclear power.  The next round of the negotiations over this issue are scheduled to begin on November 7. Those at the table will be diplomats from the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany – the so-called P5+1. Iran now has the capability to refine uranium into weapons grade material. The U.S. has been staunchly opposed to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons; the Iranians contend that their envisioned uses of nuclear power are entirely peaceful. The United States has imposed economic sanctions against Iran and persuaded most other countries to join it in imposing these sanctions, which have pinched hard. Continue reading

The Grand Presumption

by Doug Bennett

“President Obama’s policy toward Syria has failed, and it’s time to try a tougher approach.” Nicholas D. Kristof wrote those words in a column in the New York Times on August 28th. He went to urge that the U.S. arm those opposing President Assad, and launch missile strikes against the Syrian regime.

Kristof was hardly alone in urging military action when he wrote those words, and a good deal has changed since then. Kristof’s support of military action was striking because he seems like one of the least likely commentators to urge such a course. Most days and most situations, he would urge an approach grounded in dialogue, respect for human rights, and adherence to international agreements. But beyond the surprise of his hawkish urgings in this case, I want to focus on his judgment that U.S. foreign policy had “failed.”

By “failed,” I think Kristof means that we hadn’t gotten our way; our efforts did not produce the outcome we wanted. We hadn’t gotten the Assad regime to stop the violence against its own citizens.

That is an astonishing expectation: that the United States will always get its way in foreign relations. and if we do not, we should count the effort a failure. What anyone else wants doesn’t matter and doesn’t count. If we don’t get what we want, we fail.

Let us call this ‘the grand presumption.’

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What Are Our Obligations Toward Syria? Are we exceptional or responsible?

by Doug Bennett

Syria by by Eric Barfoed

Syria by by Eric Barfoed

As Syria holds our attention, the biggest question for me, and I hope for you, is about the United States.  As the United States asserts that Syria’s President Assad has responsibilities to his own people, we should be asking what are our responsibilities to other countries?

Syrian President Assad used poison gas against citizens of his own country: that’s the charge. It is an unproven allegation that it was the Assad regime that used the gas. There has not been any public consideration of the evidence, and we all remember (don’t we?) that the allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq turned out be bogus.

The case for intervention is that there are limits to what a leader (whether a despot or democratically elected) can do towards his own people.  A leader has obligations and responsibilities, the argument goes, and other countries can and should enforce these responsibilities, once breached.  Use of poison gas is a crime against humanity, and no one should be allowed to do that.

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