Try a little diplomacy

 In Iran, Nuclear Weapons

engaging in some grassroots diplomacy in Shiraz, Iran

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say that now would be a good time to engage in serious diplomacy with Iran.

A new report from the IAEA has reinvigorated calls for harsh action against Iran. While the conclusions of the report point to the possibility that Iran wants to have a nuclear weapons capability, it’s still not clear that they have make a definitive decision to build a bomb. The key point, as the Arms Control Association points out, is that “it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.”

Despite this important fact, politicians and pundits from both sides of the aisle are predictably calling for counterproductive responses.  Congress was already lining up broad, sweeping sanctions. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed sanctions that would block attempts at diplomacy with Iran, and hurt regular Iranians though measures like preventing the president from allowing the sale of civilian airplane parts to Iran. When I took a couple of short flights within Iran a two years ago, it was the only time I ever had an ashtray in my armrest. We are talking about some old planes in dire need of repair, and hundreds of Iranians have suffered the consequences in plane crashes in recent years. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is leading the charge for what the National Iranian American Council calls the “nuclear option” of sanctions: going after Iran’s central bank, another move that would put a terrible burden on regular Iranians.

Sen. Joe Lieberman did his whole Lieberman thing, saying that the US must consider military force against Iran. And he’s not alone. I won’t spend a lot of time explaining why this would obviously be a horrible idea, but here are 5 reasons to start.

Joe Lieberman is right about one (only one?) thing: “what we have already been doing, that clearly hasn’t been working.” Barbara Slavin, who has spent much more time than many of these politicians studying and understanding Iran, called on the US to double down on diplomacy:

Washington and its partners should provide Iran with a clearer sense of what the international community would accept in terms of uranium enrichment and civilian nuclear activity — if Iran clarifies its behavior and accepts stringent safeguards against diversion to weapons. The Obama administration has been quick to pivot from talking to punishing. Iran needs to know that sanctions are not an end in themselves.

There is understandable frustration that sanctions have not forced Tehran to curb its nuclear program. As Congress and the administration contemplate further measures to increase pressure on Iran, however, they should focus on improving implementation of existing sanctions that target nuclear proliferation and Iranian officials rather than Iranians in general.

There are people who are highly pessimistic about engaging in diplomacy with Iran, and many have already declared it a failure. But many of the approaches recommended by experts on Iran haven’t even been tried. As Laicie Olsen of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation aptly pointed out, we’ve given the war in Afghanistan more than a decade (without much in the way of success to show for it); how about devoting even a fraction of that much time to serious, comprehensive diplomacy with Iran? Despite the political rhetoric, “all options” haven’t really been on the table. It’s time to put comprehensive, pragmatic diplomacy on the table before we head down an even more dangerous path with Iran.

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  • Lex

    Stumbled on your blog. I just wrote about the drum of war today in my blog. I agree that we should double down on diplomacy but we should also consider the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and that alone is not reason enough for military action. That must be an “option” that’s part of the conversation as well.

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