The U.S. government should reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran. It should cease calling for regime change; the Iranian government is not going away. Instead the U.S. should work through diplomatic channels to raise issues that concern us like human rights and support for terrorism. Eventually the U.S. should help Iran, the way it has China, accede to international organizations, including the World Trade Organization. The U.S. should explore whether the model of U.S.-Iran cooperation that was successful in Afghanistan can be replicated for Iraq.
A bilateral meeting between officials of both countries should be considered to lay the foundation for reopening diplomatic ties. While noting disagreements on specific issues, the meeting could result in a mutual declaration of intent. The declaration should include mutual benefits, rather than one-sided benefits to the U.S. or Iran.
The development of a corps of Foreign Service officers with knowledge of Farsi, Iranian history, and Iranian culture should be accelerated, and existing mechanisms of dialogue with Iranians should be expanded. The restrictions on meetings between Iranian and American officials should be relaxed. If a thaw in bilateral relations takes place, a cadre of knowledgeable diplomats will enable the U.S. to collaborate with Iran on certain issues while pursuing a hard line in others. With this in mind, the government’s new National Security Language Initiative should be made a priority. Areas for potential future cooperation include the environment, drug and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, drug interdiction, and medical research.
Other actions that should be considered include: a) moderating the rhetoric, as threats, accusations, and ultimatums are counterproductive; b) allowing Iranians to obtain visas to enter the United States and encouraging their visits; c) revitalizing the Fulbright program for academic exchanges, especially short-term professor exchanges; d) sending one or two young diplomats from each government’s foreign ministry to study language for a year at a university in the other’s country; and e) establishing virtual joint classes and discussion groups between universities (as Soliya does with the Arab world) and other institutions and organizations.
The State Department should coordinate with immigration officers and other branches of the Department of Homeland Security where visas have been issued to Iranians to visit the United States to ensure that these vetted and pre-approved exchanges are not thwarted because officers at the point of entry lack information. As stated above, visas should be given to Iranians and their visits encouraged.
Incentives should be identified to reward compromise on the part of Iran. While relations are now too strained for the United States to offer carrots in advance of agreements, the outlines of specific incentives should be articulated. Among possible approaches could be U.S. promotion of direct investment to improve Iran’s decaying oil infrastructure, encouragement of Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization, and the removal of American objections to the proposed natural gas pipeline between Iran, Pakistan, and India. Cultural and scientific exchanges could also be part of an incentive package.
There should be a review of the existing array of U.S. sanctions to assess their impact, followed by consideration of whether those with little or no negative effect on specific targeted problems might be reconsidered. Those restrictions that have potential to cause large-scale suffering among Iranian citizens should be abandoned. For example, even the threat of broad economic sanctions such as an oil blockade would greatly strengthen hard-line forces in Iran. Sanctions prohibiting the exchange of academic or cultural information contained in the works of senior government officials in Iran, Cuba, and Sudan should be abandoned. Reading such texts would be of real value to Americans, and many believe that such restrictions are not in keeping with the First Amendment.
Iran should not be a scapegoat for Iraq. While an assessment of Iran’s role in supporting violent actors in Iraq’s internal conflicts is beyond the scope of Network 20/20’s Iran project, the deteriorating situation in Iraq clearly has multiple causes. The Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that Iran be urged to cooperate in intra-regional settlements concerning Iraq remains a more promising approach than the confrontational one being pursued by U.S. officials. At a minimum, official American statements should acknowledge that Iran has a natural interest in securing influence for itself in its immediate neighborhood, even while objecting to the forms that influence may now take.