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Carnegie Endowment on How to Engage Iran

By Ali Hosseini, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Washington, DC - According to Karim Sadjadpour, the logic behind talking with Iran is analogous to "asking a vegetarian if he's not eating meat because he loves animals, and getting the response that it's because he hates plants." In other words, whether or not America likes the leadership in Iran, a cooperative Iran is "central for the achievement of US objectives" in the Middle East.

Along with fellow Carnegie scholar George Perkovich, Mr. Sadjadpour discussed the need for engaging in dialogue with Tehran as part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event last week titled "Strategic Engagement with Iran: Steps for the Next U.S. President."   

Lamenting the "lazy" character of those who call for engagement with Tehran, Sadjadpour criticized their inability to move the debate past if or why America should engage in with the Iranians. Rather, "the crux of the debate is that we need to talk to Iran, and how do we go about doing so."

Perkovich and Sadjadpour went on to elucidate the mutual misconceptions and mistrust that have marred Iran-US relations for the past three decades. Through this conception, the nuclear issue was portrayed as a symptom, rather than cause, of broader issues. Hence, it was concluded that the nuclear file could not be resolved in isolation. Regardless of the reasons for America's strained ties with Iran, Tehran and Washington intrinsically have common, "overlapping interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and about [Sunni] terrorism," said Sadjadpour.

This in turn led to a discussion of how to reap the benefits of these shared interests. The two likened the prospect of a grand strategic bargain with Tehran to "locking a couple that has been divorced for thirty years into a room, and expecting them to kiss." Perkovich and Sadjadpour instead promoted a gradual increase in cooperation in which Iran and the United States "should focus on their shared interests as a basis for a co-evolutionary process of rapprochement."

Perkovich and Sadjadpour insisted that Washington should not extend an overly-grand gesture towards Tehran before the Iranian presidential elections in mid-2009, as it would strengthen President Ahmadinejad. But that doesn't mean Washington should continue its overt hostility and rhetoric.  Moreover, they criticized the Western responses to the contrasting approaches of Iran's two most recent presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Ahmadinejad. While the US response to former president Khatami's 'dialogue among civilizations' involved branding Iran as a member of the 'Axis of Evil,' the Western reaction to Ahmadinejad's confrontational rhetoric has been to offer more incentives to modify Iran's behavior.     

Therefore, Perkovich argued that the U.S. should alter its approach so as to challenge the premise of Iran's insistence on maintaining a domestic capability to enrich uranium. In this endeavor, providing Tehran with "five years' worth of enriched uranium for the Bushehr reactor" to hold on to "until we resolve the nuclear issue" would be a valuable confidence-building measure likely to empower voices for pragmatism in Tehran. 

... Payvand News - 10/23/08 ... --

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