September 27, 2013

U.S., Iran show signs of needed break in dispute

By Colin H. Kahl

Source: The Times and Democrat

Journalist(s) Staff

THE ISSUE: Iran nuclear program; OUR OPINION: New leader opens door to progress in negotiations that are preferable to military action

Amid the continuing uncertainty over how the United States will proceed with regard to Syria and its use of chemical weapons in the nation’s civil war, the United States and Iran, a principal ally of the Assad government in Syria, appear to be making at least some progress toward actually talking seriously to one another for the first time in decades.

The National Security Network reports that key changes have come with the new Iranian leader, President Rouhani. In light of previous Iranian behavior, his acknowledging the Holcaust and calling for negotiations to end the civil war in Syria seems monumental. But a dispute that has seen the United States and Iran behave as bitter enemies over more than three decades will not end at once. And the key issue upon which progress in the relationship will be based is action regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“Now the performances are past, and the hard work of testing flexibility, finding mutual interests and reaching agreements that are verifiable and meet core U.S. interests begins,” states NSA, which is often in line with Obama administration approaches in foreign policy.

According to NSN’s Executive Director Heather Hurlburt, “President Rouhani’s denunciation of extremism and statement that ‘our national interests call for us to remove any and all reasonable concerns’ about our nuclear program were welcome ones. What comes next ... will tell who is ready for a serious effort at negotiations to that end.”

Obama has been under pressure stating that his policies toward Iran are heading nowhere with regard to preventing the Islamic republic from developing and deploying nuclear weapons. Sanctions have been deemed too little a deterrent, with emphasis usually coming back around to a military strike by U.S and/or Israeli forces.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl told NSN, “At a time of great turmoil in the Middle East, the Obama administration understands the necessity of American leadership and engagement. But Washington has more influence over some events than others. The United Stated cannot dictate terms anywhere in the region, but we have a greater ability to influence positive outcomes in the Israeli-Palestinian and Iranian nuclear domains than is the case elsewhere. President (Barack) Obama also recognizes that progress in these two areas — while hardly a cure for all the region’s ills — is essential to secure core American interests and move the region forward toward greater peace and stability.”

David Ignatius of The Washington Post outlines what each side is looking for in a “realistic” negotiation: “(U.S. officials) want more flexibility on such issues as safeguards and inspections, a greater willingness to restrict Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and perhaps cap its new production at 5 percent. They also see hints of Iranian flexibility on closing the big underground facility at Fordow, outside Qom. In return, Iran clearly wants acceptance of its right to enrich uranium — something Israel opposes.”

On Wednesday, the The Washington Post editorially joined in as a voice for finding compromise where there currently is a stalemate as Iran’s nuclear program goes on.

“A small accord with Iran – a reduction of nuclear capacity in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions – would be preferable to unchecked development by Tehran that provokes U.S. or Israeli military action,” the newspaper stated.

We agree. A negotiated agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is the preferable outcome. That, and better relations with Iran overall, won’t happen overnight or with just a handshake, but there is the first sign of progress. And that is good news.

  • Colin H. Kahl

    Middle East Security

    Dr. Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the former National Securi...