Thursday, July 24, 2008

Senators Endorse U.S. Interests Section in Tehran

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to President Bush on July 24, 2008 endorsing the opening of an interests section in Tehran. Below is the full text of the letter.

Dear Mr. President:

We are encouraged by recent revelations that your Administration is actively reviewing the possibility of opening an interests section in Iran, and write to express our support for this limited but strategically significant U.S. diplomatic presence. By establishing direct contact with the people of Iran, facilitating their travel to America, and increasing our understanding of Iran's complicated domestic politics, this initiative will advance our national interests.

Along with your welcome decision to send Under Secretary of State William Burns to Geneva to join in talks with Iran over its nuclear program, this will send a positive message to the Iranian people and the international community about our intentions and enhance our ability to apply greater pressure on the Iranian government.

As you know, Iranians are among the most pro-American people in the Greater Middle East. Many hold the United States in high regard as a country that cherishes the values of freedom, tolerance, and human dignity. Despite our strong differences with their government over its nuclear ambitions, support for international terrorism, and hateful rhetoric towards Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said that "[w]e are determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people." Opening an interests section in Iran, as we have done in other countries such as Cuba, is a highly-visible way of accomplishing this important objective.

The United States has not had any diplomatic presence in Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979. As a result, Iranians who are interested in traveling to the United States must go to Dubai to obtain U.S. visas, impeding familial, cultural, and scientific exchanges that over time can begin to transform Iran. The more frequently that ordinary Iranians have an opportunity to interact with Americans, the more likely they are to ignore their government's propaganda demonizing our country.

At the same time, a limited diplomatic presence in Iran would improve our understanding of the competing political factions that influence Tehran's decision-making. As Under Secretary Burns recently acknowledged, our knowledge of Iran's political and policy-making processes is currently rather limited. Iran already operates an active interests section in Washington, DC, ostensibly for these types of reasons, so our own diplomats are at a relative information disadvantage.

While we recognize that this initiative alone will not resolve our profound disagreements with Iran's leaders, we believe it is a step in the right direction with the Iranian people. If it comes to pass, we look forward to working with your Administration to provide any necessary congressional support.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your reply.

No comments: