Washington, June 16-”Up until now, the two sides in nuclear negotiations have agreed to focus narrowly on the nuclear issue for an understandable fear that broadening agenda too much, too fast will reduce chance of getting a deal,” said Dr. Paul Pillar, a former CIA and National Intelligence Council officer, speaking at a briefing hosted by National Iranian American council for Congressional staff. “If we get a deal, that changes. Pressure and sanctions start to be resolved, dialogue that has been fostered in nuclear arena will continue...this opens a new channel of diplomacy for us to pursue our interests. “
The briefing touched on the unfolding situation in Iraq that has drawn the U.S. and Iran into a potential dialogue beyond the nuclear file. NIAC Research Director Reza Marashi noted that possible cooperation regarding the Iraq challenge is far from unprecedented. “After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and again after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Iran reached out to the U.S. with concrete proposals for creating a working relationship,” he said. “Both times, the Bush administration rejected Iran’s overtures. It would be tragic for the U.S. to miss another golden opportunity to de-escalate tensions with Iran.”
Marashi described how Iran is currently seeking to move away from the relationship of animosity it has had with the United States to a state he described as “rivalry,” where mutual interests can be pursued while differences can be managed. “Simply put, both sides need each other right now, and the reason why they need each other is because they have tried to achieve their interests at the expense of the other...and what have we seen? The region has gotten worse, not better.”
The event, attended by over 70 Congressional staffers, also addressed the current state of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal that will be decisive in determining any future relations. The speakers described July 20th as a “soft deadline” for a deal that could be extended, and discussed the domestic political problems that would accumulate as the talks move past the date.
“One reason I think it would be good to complete things by July 20th is because the politics of opposition [to a deal] would be prevalent otherwise,” Pillar explained, with Marashi adding that “it will be more difficult to keep hawks on both sides boxed in” much longer.
Both speakers also observed that, if Congress proceeds with new sanctions as the talks continue, it would derail the negotiations and place the blame on the United States, significantly undermining American credibility-particularly if Iran continues to uphold their commitments to provide IAEA inspectors access and to eliminate their stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.
Responding to a question about why Congress should “trust” Iran to uphold an eventual nuclear deal, Pillar cautioned against such formulations and emphasize the importance of verification mechanisms under any deal. “IAEA inspections are not a matter of trust. They are under an unprecedented level of inspection and onsite monitoring provisions,” he said. “It’s not Reagan’s trust but verify, rather it’s don’t trust but rely on monitoring and verification.”
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