Analysis: To Engage or Not Engage Tehran
Council on Foreign Relations
May 8, 2006
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
The presidents of Iran and the United States make unlikely pen pals. The two countries have had no direct contact in twenty-seven years, and the war of words between the two has left little room for diplomacy. Yet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an unusual and unprecedented move, sent President Bush a letter via the Swiss embassy in which he called for "new solutions" to resolve the nuclear crisis and reiterated that Iran's nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes only (NYT). The text of the letter has not been made public. Nor is it clear whether the Bush administration will respond to its contents directly (Bloomberg).
The letter comes amid renewed calls by some U.S. officials, including former national security adviser Samuel Berger and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), to reengage directly with Iran's government to defuse the crisis by diplomatic means. "The continued unwillingness of the U.S. to engage Iran will make other [UN Security Council] states hesitate to support, and possibly oppose" stricter actions like sanctions, Hagel wrote in the Financial Times. Further, they urge Washington to negotiate not just on the nuclear issue but on other pressing concerns, including Iran's support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraq's Shiite militias, as well as on issues related to longstanding U.S. sanctions against Tehran, security guarantees, and reintegrating Iran back into the international community. "Iran's hardliners, not the U.S., need to be seen as the obstacle to fulfilling its people's aspirations," Berger wrote in the Wall Street Journal. An April 5 CFR symposium on Iran outlines all the possible scenarios for dealing with Tehran.
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