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If Obama Wants Anything Productive with Iran, He's Going to Have to Show a Little R.e.s.p.e.c.t

With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now.

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The crucial point is this: as tens of millions of U.S. voters were choosing Barack Obama in 2008, in part because he was promising to end the war in Iraq, a powerful cross-section of Washington elites was drafting an aggressive blueprint for a future U.S. strategy in the region that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia and that the Pentagon was then still calling the “arc of instability.” And the key plank in this strategy was a program to create the conditions for a military strike against Iran.

R.e.s.p.e.c.t.?

With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now. But as Columbia University’s Gary Sick, a key White House adviser on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Tehran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, has  suggested, nothing will be accomplished if Washington does not start thinking beyond its  ever-toughening sanctions program, now practically set in stone as “politically untouchable.”

Sick has proposed a sound path, which means that it has no hope of being adopted in Washington.  It would involve private bilateral discussions by credible negotiators for both sides based on a mutually agreed-upon agenda. These would be followed by full-blown negotiations under the existing P5+1 framework (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain -- plus Germany).

Considering the frantic post-2009 seesawing of sanctions, threats,  cyber attacksmilitary surges, and colossal mutual incomprehension, no one in his right mind would expect a pattern of “mutual respect” to emerge easily out of Washington’s “dual track” approach.

It took Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, to finally explain it all last August in a  single sentence: "The history of Iran's nuclear program suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons." Chas Freeman, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agrees, suggesting in a recent speech that Iran now “seems to be reenacting Israel’s clandestine weapons development program of five decades ago, developing capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that it intends actually to do any such thing.”

What makes these developments even more absurd is that a solution to all this madness exists.  As I’ve  written elsewhere, to satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran's 20% stockpile of enriched uranium,

“a mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail a ‘zero stockpile.’ Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20% enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5%. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20% enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran's right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.”

Time to Hit the New Silk Road(s)

The current U.S. strategy is not exactly a raging success.  Economist Djavad Salehi-Esfahani has  explained how Tehran’s theocratic rulers continue to successfully manage the worst effects of the sanctions and a national currency in free fall by using the country’s immense oil and natural gas wealth to subsidize essential imports.  Which brings us to the bedrock question of this -- or possibly any other -- moment: Will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn’t need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country?

 
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