Iran: Expert Says Current U.S. Approach 'Not Fruitful'
25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. energy-security expert Flynt Leverett is an
experienced voice on Middle East affairs, having formerly served as a U.S.
National Security Council adviser on that region. Leverett, who is now director
of the New America Foundation's Geopolitics and Energy Security Project, spoke
on October 24 with Radio Farda about U.S. efforts to discourage Iran's nuclear
ambitions. Leverett said on the sidelines of the Prague Energy Forum --
organized by RFE/RL in partnership with the Warsaw-based Institute for
Eastern Studies -- that he thinks Washington's current approach has not "been
Iran says it is in favor of negotiations, but [that] there should be no
preconditions. Do you feel that this would be acceptable to the United States
under any circumstances?
Flynt Leverett: At this
moment, U.S. policy is that the Iranians should suspend all of their
enrichment-related activities as a precondition for negotiations. Apparently, in
the last few weeks, Mr. [Javier] Solana of the European Union has been trying to
work out a formula whereby perhaps the Iranians would agree to a suspension for
a certain period of time, but maybe the day after talks started, so it wouldn't
formally be a precondition. But those efforts proved unsuccessful. I think it
will be very difficult for the Bush administration to enter talks with Iran
without some kind of prior understanding about suspension [regarding] what kinds
of activities Iran would be allowed to carry out or not carry out while
negotiations were moving forward. I think the administration attaches a high
priority to that, and it would be a difficult hurdle to get over in order to get
the United States into some kind of negotiating process.
'Not Enough On The Table'
As a former member of the National Security Council of the United
States, how do you assess the U.S. approach to solving the Iranian crisis?
Leverett: This is my own personal view: I
don't think the current approach is very fruitful. I think that one of the
reasons we're not able to overcome the issue of suspension, and what the
conditions for talks would be, is that the United States, unfortunately in my
view, is not prepared to put enough on the table in terms of security
guarantees, regional security frameworks, those kinds of things that would make
a negotiating process genuinely interesting and attractive for Iran. I think
that's a real problem in the current U.S. approach.
Leverett: This administration has had opportunities in the
past to build a more cooperative relationship with Iran. In the aftermath of the
September 11  attacks, the U.S. and Iran cooperated very well on issues
relating to Afghanistan, and at the Bonn conference [on Afghanistan] in December
2001, U.S.-Iranian cooperation was critical to the success of that. Then, six
weeks after the Bonn conference, Iran is labeled as part of the "axis of evil."
I know from the Iranian side that this was an extremely disappointing outcome to
what Iranians believed was a sincere effort at cooperation. There have been
other opportunities that have come up, which, unfortunately, the administration
has not pursued as seriously as I think they should have. But I think it is very
important for the U.S. to find a way to work with Iran and establish a much
better relationship than our two countries have now.
RFE/RL: Sources close to
Iranian decision-makers say that in addition to what is in the proposed nuclear
package, as you said, Iran seeks other incentives, mainly security guarantees.
What are the chances for Iran getting such guarantees under the current
Leverett: Based on my own
experience in the administration, I'd have to say, frankly, I think it will be
very difficult for this administration to be willing to consider giving a
security guarantee to the Islamic Republic [of Iran]. I think if we were going
to go down that road, it would mean that we would need to be talking to Iran
about a whole range of issues besides the nuclear issue, as important as that
is. I think that might be difficult for this administration to do.
Nevertheless, I think that is
the only way through which the United States and Iran can really begin to put
their relationship on a fundamentally different, better path, and I hope that's
where we will end up. But as I said, based on my experience in the
administration, I think it will be difficult for the administration to go down
RFE/RL: What's the main obstacle for
the administration going down this path?
Leverett: I think the fundamental issue is that for the
United States to be willing to extend a security guarantee to Iran means
effectively legitimating the Islamic republic. I think a number of important
players in the administration, including, my sense is, the president himself,
will be very reluctant to do something that in their minds would legitimate the
Islamic republic. I think that's an unfortunate way of looking at the situation,
because it puts some real limits on your chances of getting a diplomatic and
strategic breakthrough between our two countries, but I think that is part of
the reality in Washington.
RFE/RL: On the other hand, if
the Iranian emigres who are politically active and opposed to the Islamic
republic see that the U.S. is moving in that direction, some of them would be
really disappointed, because they would feel that it's compromising the human
rights situation in Iran and other issues.
Yes, and I think there are important players in the administration,
including the president, who would be sensitive and sympathetic to those
arguments. That's why I think it will be difficult for this administration to
end up going down that road.
RFE/RL: Are you
sympathetic to those arguments, though -- the issues of human rights and
democracy in Iran?
Leverett: Of course, I think
human rights is an extremely important issue, a very important aspect of
American foreign policy. But I think you need to ask what the best ways are of
achieving real improvements in human rights on the ground. To my mind, current
U.S. policy toward Iran has done very little to help us address our security
interests, our political interests with regard to Iran. And I really don't think
it's done anything to help the state of human rights in Iran. I think that by
engaging Iran, by establishing a strategic framework for better relations
between the United States and Iran and engaging Iran within that framework,
we're going to have a much better chance of seeing real improvements in human
rights in Iran than by simply lecturing and demanding from outside.
RFE/RL: Would the difficulties the U.S. has increasingly
been facing in Iraq set the stage for a reduction in tensions between Washington
and Tehran, or would it, on the contrary, increase the likelihood of
Leverett: In theory, I think it
could provide an opportunity for cooperation. I think the United States clearly
needs to be involving Iraq's neighbors more in trying to stabilize the security
situation and the political situation there. But to do that means recognizing
that some of Iraq's neighbors have interests of their own in Iraq. I think,
again, that will be a difficult hurdle for the administration to cross. I
personally think that would be a better policy, but it will be difficult for the
administration to do that. That always leaves the possibility that Iraq could
become a point of additional tension between the U.S. and Iran. I hope that
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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