The recent effort in the House of Representatives to intensify sanctions on Iran is the wrong policy at the wrong time. American Congressmen should keep their attention on negotiating a budget that the president will sign and that will support revival of the economy and job creation. This excursion into foreign policy is not merely a distraction; it lays pavement on a road that leads unmistakably to further violence and war in the Middle East.
The recent elections in Iran may provide an opportunity to negotiate limits on Iran’s nuclear program and to reduce Iranian trouble-making in other respects. Of course, any negotiations are going to be difficult and their success far from certain, but our diplomats may face a rare window of opportunity in dealing with Iran. We should not turn our backs to the prospect of a negotiated settlement without even putting it to the test. Intensifying sanctions—which have not worked in the past—would effectively close that window.
What are the prospects for negotiation? A recent article by Ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering and Dr. Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, provides a clear and insightful summary of the respective interests of Iran and the United States. There are obvious conflicts but also a number of common interests that might surprise most Americans, who hear only of the differences. For example, Iran is a natural ally to limit Al Qaeda and Taliban influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama Administration should heed the advice of the authors and other experienced observers and propose wide-ranging talks with the new Iranian government in order to test its willingness to negotiate an acceptable modus operandi. A settlement will obviously require some concessions on both sides, including U.S. agreement that Iran can enrich uranium under IAEA supervision.
The Bush-Cheney Administration missed an opportunity in 2003 and 2004, when it might have been possible to strike a deal with Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. We should not pass up a possible opportunity to work with his successor.