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The Big Push

By Sahar Jooshani, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

"We need to expect the unexpected with Iran. If we think we have Iran figured out, we need to think again." Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution, said in her closing remarks Thursday morning at "Confronting or Engaging Iran" held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The panel, which also included Frank Wisner, Qamar-ul Huda, Avner Cohen, and William Luers, discussed what factors have and continue to create obstacles for U.S. engagement with Iran. The panel, brought together by the United States Institute of Peace, focused on the severe need for the United States to begin to understand the internal layers within Iranian politics.

The American government is in the dark and out of touch with the complexity of opinions and thoughts within the Iranian government. Qamar-ul Huda, who joined the U.S Institute for Peace in 2005 said, "We as Americans are at a clear disadvantage due to our lack of understanding the systems of balance between the clergy and the president of Iran." 

According to Huda many clergy such as Ayatollah Mosavi and Ayatollah Montazeri are shifting toward liberalism, feminism, progressivism, and open relations with the United States.  He recalled discussions with Ayatollahs in Iran who expressed their shame and embarrassment of the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Suzanne Maloney followed by expressing the need for the United States government to have a "keener interpretation of Iran's ever-changing dynamics." Iran's semi-authoritarian government is both unpredictable and unyielding. Maloney expressed her optimism for future relations with Iran, though she urged that timing, tone, and familiarity with the nation are vital. Iran needs incentives for cooperation not sanctions and other economic threats. The United States government must approach and deal with Iran as a complete nation and as an equal.

Amongst the optimism there was the skeptical opinion of Avner Cohen. Cohen, well known for works on nuclear weapons, such as Israel and the Bomb, introduced the unavoidable need to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran. Cohen repeated on numerous occasions that the nuclear issue was "extremely difficult, not impossible, but nearly impossible."  He stated that there was, "tiny room for solution."  Cohen seemed very doubtful of Iran's willingness to be forthright and honest with the United States and the EU, creating a great obstacle in future relations between Iran and the United States. Though Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a history of "blurring the distinction" between possessing and not possessing nuclear weapons, said Cohen.  Cohen had no solution at present, but stressed the need for scrutiny when negotiating with Iran on the issue of nuclear proliferation.

Sharing Cohen's concern with the Iranian enrichment program, William Luers, President of the United Nations Association of the USA, stated that the nuclear enrichment issue is central to U.S. engagement with Iran. Both Luers and Cohen stated that prior to any talks of open relations between the two countries, the United States had to first and foremost draw up a sketch, whether rough or defined, on how to go about restricting nuclear proliferation, while steering clear of threatening the power, strength, and pride of the Iranian government. Iran is a key nation in the region, and therefore for the future of the US and that of Iran, the U.S. must begin dialogue while respecting the standpoint of the Iranian government. If the U.S. continues to threaten or sanction Iran, Iran will only retaliate and close off any future forms of communication. When referring to the construction of nuclear plants in Iran, Luers stated, "As we have said don't build them, they have built thousands."

The panel ended on a serious yet hopeful note. Maloney stated that Iran is ready to open relations with the United States. Yet, the success of such talks is dependent on the American willingness to treat Iran as nation, one that stands proud and strong.  As Luers light heartedly stated, "The US needs to talk to a real live Iranian." The United States of America is at a pivotal point in its history. The new president elect Barack Obama can have an immense deal of positive impact on the tone and direction of negotiations and relations with Iran. In her closing remarks, Maloney said, "Iran is a great nation, with a rich history of pride and strength, if we push they will stand strong, but the future is hopeful."

... Payvand News - 01/14/09 ... --

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