February 15, 2017

Trump’s Iran Policy Is Missing One Big Piece

Featuring Ilan Goldenberg

The Trump administration has put Iran “on notice” for its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and violation of international norms. While I have some significant concerns about how this was done, it is perfectly reasonable and indeed advisable to take a harder line with regards to Iranian behavior that is counter to the interests of the United States and its Middle Eastern partners.

But the Trump administration should also maintain the communications channels the Obama administration opened with Iran. In life and diplomacy it is almost always better to communicate directly than not communicate, even if you disagree. After 35 years with rare sporadic communication between the United States and the Islamic Republic, establishing a direct line between the Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister was an important achievement of the Obama administration and one that should be maintained. Moreover, if the United States keeps channels open and is seen as reasonable and open to negotiation, it can isolate Iran and build international consensus when Iran violates international norms. But if the Trump administration closes the door to dialogue than it will allow Iran to portray itself as the victim of an irresponsible Trump administration and make it harder to generate international pressure .

There are a number of issues where the Trump administration would benefit from direct talks with Iran. First there is explaining what putting Iran “on notice” means. Public statements and tweets are certainly one form of communication and using interlocutors like the Omanis is also helpful. But a direct explanation by the Trump administration to Iran of the types of actions that are truly unacceptable to the United States and will provoke an American response is valuable. Iran wants no part of a direct confrontation with the United States and this type of firm talk by the Trump team can play a useful deterrent role. However, it comes with a real risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation if the United States is too vague. The best way to clearly communicate American views is face-to-face – not through an intermediary.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.

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