Barry Schweid – Associated Press November 13, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama, plotting his strategy on Iran, is getting this advice from a panel of American diplomats and other experts: Don't pile on economic and military threats; it doesn't help.
"An attack would almost certainly fail" while coercing Iran with economic sanctions has very little chance of success, the experts say in a report to be presented next week at a conference on the future of U.S.-Iran policy.
"Threats are not cowing Iran and the current regime in Tehran is not in imminent peril," according to a copy of the report obtained by The Associated Press.
The Iranian people "have seen the outcome of U.S.-sponsored regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. They want no part of it," the report said.
Far more likely to succeed, said former U.S. ambassadors Thomas Pickering and James F. Dobbins, Columbia University scholar Gary G. Sick and 17 other experts, is to "open the door to direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations at the senior diplomatic level."
At the same time, they advised facilitating unofficial contacts between scholars, professionals, religious leaders, lawmakers and ordinary citizens.
The report originated from conversations among a number of experts on Iran who were concerned about the course of American diplomacy on Iran, Dobbins said Thursday. "We got together to offer the administration a different approach, one that is focused on communication and with a view to making progress over time on a range of issues," he said.
Richard Parker, a professor at the University of Connecticut, organized the report, which will be presented Tuesday on Capitol Hill to the Iranian American Council.
In his presidential campaign, Obama endorsed "direct diplomacy" with Iran. At a post-election news conference he called Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons unacceptable. So far, it is a sketchy policy outline.
The experts recommended the United States take a leadership role in ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and widen the range of discussion. The negotiators should offer Iran the prospect of security assurances and the easing of U.S. economic sanctions in the event of an accord.
"Talking directly to a foreign government in no way signals approval of the government, its policies or its actions," the report said.
On other fronts, the experts advised giving Iran "a place at the table" in shaping the future of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region.
The United States and Iran support the same government in Iraq and face common enemies in the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the report said.
Labeled "Myth #1" in the report is the notion that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the shots on Iran's nuclear and foreign policy.
The ultimate decision-maker is the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commander in chief of Iran's armed forces, the report said. Despite frequent hostile rhetoric aimed at Israel and the West, "Khamenei's track record reveals a cautious decision maker who acts after consulting advisers holding a range of views, including views sharply critical of Ahmadinejad."
Last updated 17/11/2008