Iran-U.S. Hostilities Must Stop

If Washington acts in U.S.—not Israeli—interests, Tehran may be willing to deal.

After working for three decades within the Iranian administration, I have no doubt that Iran and the supreme leader, who is the ultimate decision maker on foreign policy, would welcome a healthy relationship with the United States based on mutual respect and noninterference and an end to bullying, oppression and hostilities. Iran sees itself as a great country that served as the cradle of civilization and has contributed positively to the world in many fields, including science, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, arts and music. It is this national pride that reinforces a staunch resistance to coming under American dominance or subordination.

But there is still openness in Iran for a balanced relationship. As I explained in my recent book The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, all top three nuclear negotiators during both the Khatami and Ahmadinejad administrations proposed to both the Bush and Obama administrations that the sides engage in a broad dialogue aimed toward rapprochement. It was the United States that declined.

While Iran’s intention for a big deal with the United States is clear, Washington needs to return to Nixonian realism. Only with a new and realistic engagement can it restore trust and bridge the gaps between the two great nations.

The United States and Iran should aim for the kind of sustained and comprehensive talks that have not been seen for the last three decades. It would be prudent for Washington and Tehran to engage in direct talks, at the expert level, prior to the U.S. presidential election in November and the subsequent Iranian presidential election in June 2013. This would allow both sides to prepare the groundwork and strategy for the postelection era. Historic precedent indicates that following their respective presidential elections, both capitals have attempted rapprochement, yet failed in their efforts since there was no prior preparation or coordination.

In response to the far-reaching overtures Iran has made, Washington must put far-reaching proposals of its own on the table. The United States must be ready to recognize Iran’s right to civil nuclear power, including peaceful enrichment, in return for assurances that Iran would remain a non-nuclear state forever. Furthermore, the United States should begin practical cooperation on areas of common interest such as Afghanistan. Issues that matter to both countries should not be held hostage to tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

If the United States makes the right offer, it is possible to strike a deal that ensures Iran would remain free of nuclear weapons forever. However, Netanyahu continues to assert that Iran is determined to acquire a nuclear weapon and that the diplomatic track has failed. Such allegations are aimed at forcing the international community to decide whether to “bomb Iran” or live with an “Iranian bomb.”—in this formulation, the only options are war or containment and deterrence. Both are terrible choices for the United States and the West.

The possibility for a diplomatic resolution is still high and needs to be given a chance. Iran is completely open to a maximum level of transparency with the IAEA and is willing to address all remaining issues, including the IAEA’s concerns about “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, Iran is ready to accept limits on its nuclear-power capacity, including a cap at a 5 percent level of enrichment. We should not let this opportunity for peaceful settlement become part of ever-growing pile of historical missed opportunities between Iran and the United States.

This realistic approach has a chance if the United States—and not Israel—leads on Iran. Just as the former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns wrote in a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe, Washington should not “remain hostage to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s increasingly swift timetable for action.” Let us hope the new U.S. president has this wisdom and capability.

Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators. His latest book is The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Images: Obama - Elizabeth Cromwell, Khamenei –