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Military and arms control experts call for dialogue with Iran

Source: National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Washington, DC

Admiral Joe Sestak
Admiral Joe Sestak

Washington, DC - “The whole point of sanctions is to persuade Iran to come back to the negotiating table," according to Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "But how will we know when they’re ready to come back to the negotiating table if we’re not talking with them, having some kind of private, very quiet discussions?”

Fitzpatrick was joined by Admiral Joe Sestak and Greg Thielmann at an Arm Control Association (ACA) press conference emphasizing the need for direct dialogue with Iran to resolve the nuclear issue.

"We’re under an environment here where the formidable diplomatic resources of the United States are basically banned from having any contact with Iranian diplomats except on very limited special occasions," said Thielmann, a senior fellow at ACA. "This is cutting us off from a source of information about diplomatic opportunities about what is going on in Iran."

The panelists discussed a recent push by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, to open up a direct line of communication with Iran to prevent an accidental confrontation in the Persian Gulf. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon and State Department are exploring potential avenues to prevent such an incident, which Mullen has said could be expanded into a dialogue on other key areas of interest.

"I recommended as a young commander of a ship in the early ’90s that we should have an incident-at-sea agreement with [Iran]," noted Admiral Sestak in support of the renewed effort. "I recommended it as an admiral in command of an aircraft carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf. We had it with the Soviet Union and following that with the People’s Republic of China. It might have been the beginning of something more or at least the prevention of something worse."

Sestak, who also served in the House as the highest ranking military officer to ever hold Congressional office, also argued that "a military strike whether it’s by land or air against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security."

The general consensus of this panel recognized that the threat of Iran’s nuclear program is neither imminent nor inevitable, but that U.S. foreign policy must utilize all diplomatic tools to solve the matter and avoid a military confrontation.

"I also understand the cost of a military strike for our nation," said Thielmann. "Can it be done? Sure. But I agree with Secretary of Defense Gates who said anyone who would recommend a land invasion - and I saw planning beyond planning for it - should have his head examined. The cost is not worth any benefit of a land invasion, a conflict that might never end, at least not on our terms."

Ultimately, the panelists said, robust transparency measures must be put in place to provide assurance that Iran's nuclear program is for strictly civilian purposes. "To persuade Iran to give up enrichment entirely is probably - although a desirable goal, we’re probably not going to get there because there is so much support for enrichment across the political spectrum," said Fitzpatrick. "Everybody in Iran thinks that enrichment is a national right. It’s become part of their sense of national sovereignty."

But, Fitzpatrick continued, "engagement will be absolutely crucial to any peaceful solution. Sanctions alone are not going to dissuade Iran because of the sense of national will. You don’t want to bow to pressure but if you are engaged in something where there’s a positive outcome, it’s more possible."

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