An opening for a diplomatic initiative with Iran

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

"Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran."
— Senior Bush Official, May 2003

Remember this supremely arrogant statement from the Neocon war mongers who lied this country into an unnecessary and illegal war with Iraq, and triumphantly declared their willingness to take this country into another war with Iran?

President Barack Obama has an opportunity to turn this supreme arrogance on its head in a "Nixon goes to China" moment in U.S. diplomacy. I would not be suprised if this leads to a state visit by President Obama to Tehran in the next year or so in a major diplomatic initiative.

Obama's first opportunity will come at the United Nations next Tuesday. US
and Iran eye diplomatic defrosting at UN
:

President Barack Obama and Iran's new president may meet briefly next
week for the first time, marking a symbolic but significant step toward
easing their countries' tense relationship. An exchange of letters
between the leaders already has raised expectations for a revival of
stalled nuclear talks.

* * *

Both Obama and Rouhani will be in New York next week for the annual
meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. The White House hasn't ruled out
the possibility of a direct exchange, though spokesman Jay Carney said
no meeting is scheduled.

Obama has long said he would be open to
discussions with his Iranian counterparts if Tehran shows it is serious
about curbing its nuclear program.

"There have been a lot of
interesting things said out of Tehran and the new government – and
encouraging things," Carney said Thursday. "But actions speak louder
than words."

Whether any headway is made on the nuclear issue could hinge on how the
U.S. and Iran handle negotiations to dismantle Syria's vast chemical
weapons stockpile. Iran is the chief benefactor to Syria … Yet Iran has been vociferous in its condemnation of chemical weapons
attacks in Syria.

[Michael Luhan, a spokesperson for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a statement today that "The OPCW has received an initial disclosure from the Syrian Government
of its chemical weapons programme, which is now being examined by the
Technical Secretariat of the Organisation."]

In an op-ed published in Thursday's Washington Post,
Why Iran seeks constructive engagement, President Rouhani said Syria "has become the scene of heartbreaking violence" and
pledged to help facilitate dialogue between Assad's regime and the rebel
opposition.

"But to move beyond impasses, whether in relation to Syria, my country's
nuclear program or its relations with the United States, we need to aim
higher," Rouhani wrote. "Rather than focusing on how to prevent things
from getting worse, we need to think – and talk – about how to make
things better. To do that, we all need to muster the courage to start
conveying what we want – clearly, concisely and sincerely – and to back
it up with the political will to take necessary action."

* * *

Since Rouhani's election in June as the Islamic Republic's president,
he and Obama have exchanged letters in what U.S. officials describe as
an encouraging easing of Iran's defiance of the U.S. In contrast to his
recalcitrant predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani is widely seen as
a moderate politician who may have more autonomy to govern under Iran's
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It's unclear how many
letters Obama and Rouhani have exchanged. The U.S. president sent at
least one letter after Rouhani's inauguration in early August and
Iranian officials say the new president did respond.

White House
officials said Obama's letter to Rouhani touched on the long-stalled
negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program, one of the main roadblocks
to diplomacy between the two countries. Officials said Obama indicated
that Washington was ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that
would allow Iran to demonstrate that its program was exclusively for
peaceful purposes.

"The letter also conveyed the need to act with a
sense of urgency to address this issue because, as we have long said,
the window of opportunity for resolving this diplomatically is open, but
it will not remain open indefinitely," Carney said.

Rouhani, in
his first interview with a Western media outlet, told NBC News that he
thanked Obama for his outreach and "expressed Iran's viewpoint on the
issues raised in his letter and some other issues."

[See Max Fisher, Three big lessons from Rouhani’s first Western interview.]

* * *

Any direct exchange between Obama and Rouhani at the United Nations
would be largely symbolic, with substantive negotiations on Iran's
nuclear program almost certainly reserved for talks with officials from
both governments.

Trita Parsi, the president of the National
Iranian American Council, said Rouhani has a narrow window of
opportunity to show the U.S. and the international community that he's
more serious about negotiations than his predecessors.

"He doesn't
have much time to show that his approach is more effective than the
regime previously," Parsi said. "It's important for him to present
something at the U.N. that is very memorable, that really adds to what
he has already been doing over the last couple of weeks."

The New York Times adds
that Iranian leaders, "seizing on perceived flexibility in a private
letter from President Obama, have decided to gamble on forging a swift
agreement over their nuclear program with the goal of ending crippling
sanctions."

Steve Benen adds this bit of analysis in When crises become opportunities:

The surprising progress has come so suddenly that a senior American
diplomat described this week's developments as "head spinning."

So what happens next?

The consensus among many foreign policy observers is that
developments in Syria and Iran are linked in ways that may or may not be
helpful to the United States. Max Fisher explained well
yesterday that President Obama's pragmatism "has sent exactly the right
signals to Iran, particularly at this very sensitive moment."

Obama has been consistently clear, even if some members of his
administration were not, that his big overriding goal is for Syrian
leader Bashar al-Assad to stop using chemical weapons. First he was
going to do that with strikes, meant to coerce Assad. Then, in response
to the Russian proposal, Obama signaled he would back off the strikes if
Assad gave up his chemical weapons, which is exactly what Obama has
always said he wants. He's been consistent as well as flexible, which
gave Assad big incentives to cooperate when he might have otherwise dug
in his heels.

There are some awfully significant — and promising — parallels here
with the U.S. standoff with Iran. Obama has been clear that he wants
Iran to give up its rogue uranium-enrichment program and submit to the
kind of rigorous inspections that would guarantee that its nuclear
program is peaceful. He's also been clear that the United States is
using severe economic sanctions to coerce Tehran to cooperate and that
it would use military force if necessary. The implicit (and sometimes
explicit) message to Iran has been: If you abandon your enrichment
program, we'll make it worth your while by easing off.

Here's where the parallel with Syria is really important: Iranian
leaders distrust the United States deeply and fear that Obama would
betray them by not holding up his end of the bargain. That's been a
major hurdle to any U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. But seeing Assad's deal with
Obama work out (so far) sends the message to Iran that it can trust the
United States. It also sends the message that making concessions to the
United States can pay off. Iran's supreme leader has been talking a lot
lately about flexibility and diplomacy toward the West. So it's an
ideal moment for Obama to be demonstrating flexibility and diplomacy
toward the Middle East.

There are, of course, plenty of skeptics, who may yet be proven right … But for now, there is hope. The diplomatic approach in Syria is
advancing; tensions with Iran show signs of cooling; and there are even
peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians underway for the first
time in years.

For more background on the Iranian initiative, see Max Fisher, Rouhani’s
Washington Post op-ed, annotated
, and Ann Gearen and Jason Rezaian, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani prepares for his debut trip to the United Nations. See also Walter Pincus, Fine
Print: Syria groundwork began months ago
.

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