Friday, September 08, 2006

Pushing for Diplomacy with Iran

Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi spoke at a Congressional briefing sponsored by Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Women’s Action for New Directions and Friends Committee on National Legislation on September 8 to urge a new approach to the ongoing confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. Both speakers agreed that there is no such thing as a military solution to resolve Iran’s nuclear program.

Gen. Gard, who serves as the Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, pointed out that even Ronald Reagan, the paradigmatic conservative and unabashed hardliner, was willing to negotiate with the “Evil Empire” in order to achieve the historic START treaty. “Sometimes leadership requires working with people we just don’t like,” he said. Gen. Gard recently spearheaded a letter signed by retired generals and admirals and former diplomats calling on the Bush administration to "engage immediately in direct talks with the government of Iran without preconditions to help resolve the current crisis in the Middle East and settle differences over the Iranian nuclear program."

Dr. Parsi revealed that Iran’s response to the P5+1 proposal on August 22 included a guarantee that Tehran will not quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “If you can’t quit the NPT, you can’t weaponize,” he noted. He also said that Iran’s response included an agreement to suspend enrichment as long as talks continue, but that suspension should be tied to the progress of negotiations. Dr. Parsi explained that the lack of talks to date have given the Iranians time to proceed with their nuclear program and had negotiations worked three years ago, we would not be in the situation we’re in today.

Both speakers viewed the rejected May 2003 Iranian nuclear proposal as a “missed opportunity” that contributed to the ousting of former President Mohammad Khatami and led to the ascension of a more hard-line president.

Dr. Parsi concluded the session by saying that there is generally a pro-US population in Iran and most have a very positive view of the United States. Because the US has not meddled in Iran for the past 17 years, it has accumulated quite a bit of soft power in the country. “We don’t need to win the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, we just can’t afford to lose them,” Dr. Parsi said, “The threat of a US attack over the past year is causing a loss of this view.”

Travis Sharp, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation 2006 Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow, contributed to this report.

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