Iran Project Calls for Accelerating Diplomacy With Iran

Recently, The Iran Project released its much anticipated third report entitled “Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure with Diplomacy.” As a group of highly respected national security experts and former U.S. government officials, it provides thoughtful analysis on the complex U.S.-Iran relationship. This report offers concrete, strategic policy recommendations that call for the administration to invest as much energy in negotiations with Iran as it has in putting pressure on the Iranian government.

The reports released by the Iran Project are very influential among decisionmakers in Washington. The two previous papers focused on costs and benefits of military action and international sanctions against Iran. This paper offers a re-balancing of U.S. strategy, giving equal weight to negotiation and pressure. Thirty-five former national security leaders, from both sides of the aisle, endorse the report. 

Thus far, according to the report’s authors, U.S. efforts toward Iran have focused on increasing pressure and less on negotiations. While pressure is making a significant impact on Iran’s economy, it is not resulting in a negotiated solution. According to the report, there is a need for more diplomacy. “After 30 years of sanctioning and trying to isolate Iran, it seems doubtful that pressure alone will change the decision of Iran’s leaders.”

Going forward, the report notes, it is essential that the U.S. “strengthen the diplomatic track in order to seize the opportunity created by the pressure track.” The report suggests that increased diplomatic engagement should complement current pressure.

The report argues that it is important for the U.S. to pursue bilateral talks with Iran. Before that can happen, both parties must establish a climate of mutual trust and respect. Only then can the U.S. and Iran engage one another meaningfully to reach a nuclear deal. The deal, it argues, should clearly outline the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, and outlines a recommended pathway to an agreement. The path includes three primary components:

  • Maintain a purely civilian nuclear program. That means that Iran would limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent and cease all production of 20 percent enriched uranium.
  • Provide medical uranium to eliminate the need to enrich. To address Iran’s medical research and treatment needs, the U.S. would provide enough 20 percent enriched uranium to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor.
  • Stringent international monitoring. Iran would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full access to their facilities to ensure compliance with the 5 percent enrichment agreement.

If Iran were to agree to these terms, the international community could then offer partial sanctions relief and the guarantee of no additional sanctions. 

The report also proposes reopening of bilateral communication and restoration of diplomatic relations. This type of relationship could positively impact broader U.S. objectives in the region, including the Middle East peace process, the oil market and the stability of Afghanistan and Iraq. Few contributors to the Iran debate have shown the same foresight for the long-term benefits of bilateral diplomatic ties with Iran.

The report cautions that, “no change in U.S. policy will be possible unless President Obama makes the negotiation of a nuclear deal with Iran one of his top priorities.” With that in mind, the report argues it is essential that the president commit resources, staff, and political capital to a deal driven by a re-balanced approach. 

Ploughshares Fund is proud to support the work of The Iran Project and have our president, Joe Cirincione, as a signatory to all three of The Iran Project’s papers. The full report is available in pdf.