Time to move from tactics to strategy on Iran

The Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force has launched a new report, Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran, reflecting more than two years of research on a wide range of issues related to this pivotal country. The Task Force, led by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, recommends a long-term strategy that offers the Iranian government a face-saving exit from the nuclear crisis and seeks to lay the groundwork for better relations with the Iranian people. The report was launched at an event on April 4.

It calls for retooling sanctions to alleviate their impact on ordinary Iranians and to facilitate humanitarian trade and academic and cultural exchanges, as well as stationing American diplomats at an Interests Section in Tehran. The report, while retaining a military option against Iran as a last resort, also suggests a pragmatic solution to the nuclear crisis that ends with graduated relief of sanctions on oil and the Iranian Central Bank in return for verifiable curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

In the end, however, real progress can only be achieved if the Iranian government is willing to live up to its international obligations and move away from nuclear weapons ambitions.

Specific recommendations in the report include:

  • Stopping and reversing Iran’s progression toward a nuclear weapons capability through negotiations, including direct bilateral talks. The Obama administration should lay out a step-by-step reciprocal and proportionate plan that ends with graduated relief of sanctions on oil and eventually on the Iranian Central Bank. In return, Iran must verifiably cap enrichment beyond 5 percent U-235 and come clean on past—or possibly continuing—weapons-related activities.
  • Designating a small number of US and private Iranian financial institutions as channels for payment of humanitarian, educational and public-diplomacy related transactions licensed by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. This will allow pharmaceutical companies to send life-saving drugs to Iran without worrying about getting paid or falling afoul of the US Justice Department. It will also help Iranian students in the United States.
  • Diminishing Iran’s ability to hurt the interests of the US and its allies in the region. The US must remain deeply engaged in the Middle East, work to revive Arab-Israeli peace talks and more effectively shape and support a coherent opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. While it may be difficult to engage Iran on Syria, the Obama administration should include Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future.
  • Reorganizing US diplomacy to support academic, cultural and sports exchanges with Iran. The State Department should create a virtual public affairs section for Iran and restore the post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran. The US should also ask to station American diplomats at a US Interests Section in Tehran to facilitate outreach and give the US government direct, routine access to Iranian officials for the first time in more than thirty years.