Thursday, September 25, 2008

Report: Diplomacy Iran Key to Resolving U.S. Tensions with Muslim World

Search for Common Ground and Consensus Building Institute released a new report on September 24, 2008 entitled, “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World.” The report presents the consensus of the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement, comprised of 34 leaders including a former Secretary of State and a former Deputy Secretary of State, former members of Congress, a former U.S. envoy on the Middle East peace process, and leaders and experts from business, faith communities, foreign policy and social sciences.

As part of strategy for reversing extremism, the report recommends elevating diplomacy as a primary tool for resolving key conflicts among Muslim countries and engaging both allies and adversaries in dialogue. It specifically calls for engaging Iran “to explore the potential for agreements that could increase national security, while seeking Iran’s full compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation commitments.” (page 20)

Under a “Call for Action,” the report calls on the next President and Administration within the first three months to “initiate a major and sustained diplomatic effort to resolve regional conflicts and promote security cooperation in the Middle East, giving top priority to engagement with Iran and permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (page 22)

The report cites that the majority of the American public wants the U.S. to make greater use of diplomacy and dialogue with adversaries, including Iran. “However, there is little support for advocating democracy or increasing foreign aid.” (page 45)

The report finds that heightened tensions with Iran is among five drivers of tension between the U.S. and the Muslim world. “The U.S. confrontation with Iran has added to the widespread perception that the U.S. intends to dominate the Middle East militarily for the foreseeable future.” (page 50) It does note, however, that all Muslims in the Middle oppose the U.S. confrontation with Iran.

The report expounds on the complex and competing interests between the U.S. and Iran. While the U.S. has done much to signal to Iran it is willing to force, this approach has not succeeded in limiting Iran’s influence in the region or in undermining those in Iran who are hostile towards the U.S. The report states, “It is unlikely that the U.S. and its allies (both Muslim and Western) could do substantially more to constrain Iran’s economic or military options, or undermine its government, without resorting to force. At this point, the U.S. should expand the contacts with Iran that the Bush administration has recently initiated.” The goal of such talks should be to pursue the potential for “mutually beneficial agreements on regional security, diplomatic and economic relations.” Simultaneously, the U.S. should continue seeking international verification of Iran’s nuclear program and compliance with its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty (page 56).

The report goes on to state that dialogue with Iran could be particularly important for resolving the conflict in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and gaining assistance in Afghanistan.

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