On Monday, January 30, 2017, the South Asia Center’s Future of Iran Initiative co-hosted a half-day symposium with The Iran Project. The event focused on the record of the Iran nuclear deal and its likely fate under the Trump administration. The intent was to help forge a bipartisan path forward that will preserve the non-proliferation gains of the accord while finding a resolution for other Iranian activities that are of concern and contributing to conflict resolution.
In the first panel, there was a discussion about the potential for negotiating a follow-on agreement, a sort of JCPOA 2.0. This would address anxiety about what Iran might do as restrictions in the deal sunset. There was also a discussion about what sort of additional sanctions are likely to be proposed on Capitol Hill and how they might affect the nuclear agreement. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy outlined the sanctions; Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center warned against reverting “back to an all-punitive psychology about dealing with Iran” which she said has not worked in favor of U.S. interests in the past.
Senator Chris Murphy’ gave the keynote address. He said he would carefully consider new sanctions tied to Iran’s missile tests, regional role and human rights abuses, but spoke out forcefully against the visa ban, which he called a gift to Iranian hardliners and a “body blow” to pragmatists supporting Iran’s re-engagement with the United States. He said it was vital to “build a massive political movement around selling soft power” as a way of advancing U.S. interests around the world.
The final panel, featuring three veteran U.S. diplomats to the region – Zalmay Khalilzad, Marcelle Wahba and Dan Kurtzer – raised the prospect of regional powers taking upon themselves more responsibility for resolving conflicts. All agreed that Iran was a major player. Khalilzad said his hope was that Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with some indirect input from Israel, might reach agreement on the rules of the game and a new balance of power in which Washington could play a role. All three opposed the new hurdles to immigration and foreign visitors as insulting to the Muslim world and harmful to U.S. national security. Wahba called the measures “a huge mistake if you care what countries think about us.”