By: Solmaz Elmi-Sarabi, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington, DC - On the heels of Argo’s Oscar victory, and on the eve of renewed Iranian nuclear negotiations retired Ambassadors Bruce Laingen and John Limbert - two former hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the 444 day crisis - called for sustained diplomacy and an expansion of U.S.-Iran talks.
Speaking Monday at a press conference on Capitol Hill hosted by the National Iranian-American Council, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and Friends Committee on National Legislation, the two senior diplomats stressed the importance for the U.S. and Iran to establish a channel of communication, with a focus on developing a mutual understanding of the other’s world view to break down “the wall of mistrust.” Ambassador Laingen recounted his last moments before leaving Iran three decades ago when, just before boarding the plane home, he told the senior Iranian hostage taker, “I look forward to the day when your country and mine can again have a normal, diplomatic relationship.” Laingen said he could not have imagined that, 32-years later, the U.S. and Iran would still be “locked in a hostile cycle of confrontation.”
Ambassador Laingen also expressed support for new legislation that would lift the State Department’s “no-contact” policy with Iran. He called the policy, which currently prohibits U.S. diplomats from talking directly with their Iranian counterparts a “ridiculous state of affairs” that leaves no way of gauging what exactly is going on in Iran. He commended Rep. Barbara Lee for introducing the legislation to lift that policy and redouble U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran. The former Ambassador also said there are “vast shared interests” that exist between the two countries that should be used as a basis to establish a direct channel of communication between the United States and Iran.
Supporting this view, Ambassador John Limbert - the political officer to Tehran during the hostage crisis and President Obama’s first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran - said the nuclear issue may just be “too politically difficult” as a starting point for sustained negotiations. Instead, he suggested finding “the yesables” - other smaller issues that both sides can come to an agreement on - in order to move the diplomatic process forward. He explained that only through sustained negotiations will the U.S. and Iran be able to begin breaking the decades-old cycle of mistrust and misunderstandings that has been haunting both countries, and only then will progress on the nuclear issue be possible.
Throughout the press conference, both Ambassadors expressed an overall sense of optimism that the renewed diplomacy in Almaty, Kazakhstan, could bear diplomatic fruit and pave the way for further negotiationsn. But, they cautioned, it will take time. Asked about what expectations there should be for immediate “concrete steps” in the new round, Ambassador Limbert asked the attendance, “Has anyone ever tried taking a step while embedded in concrete? It’s difficult, isn’t it? And slow.” He concluded, “Progress is difficult, and slow.”
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