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Published on December 20th, 2012 | by Jasmin Ramsey

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Experts Urge Obama to Revamp Iran Diplomacy

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A group of 24 former officials and experts are urging President Obama to revise the US’s approach to preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon through revamped diplomacy. Neither sanctions nor war will guarantee a protracted solution to the impasse over Iran’s controversial program, they write, making a mutually acceptable deal the most effective solution.

International sanctions have slowed Iran’s program and increased pressure on Tehran dramatically. Yet these sanctions, even if tightened further, are unlikely to stop Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Further, they risk damaging the reputation of the United States in the eyes of ordinary Iranians suffering from the effects of the sanctions.

The military option, short of a complete military occupation of the country, can only temporarily set back Iran’s program and could likely prompt Iran to eject the IAEA inspectors and actively pursue a nuclear weapon. Such action would be counterproductive and costly, and would risk ending a negotiation option, eroding sanctions, lessening Iran’s isolation and triggering a regional war that leads to enormous civilian casualties and human suffering.

Therefore, we encourage you to direct your team vigorously to pursue serious, sustained negotiations with the Iranian government on an arrangement that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran. With greater determination, creativity, and persistence, we believe that such a deal is within reach.

Congress seems adamant about sanctioning Iran to no visible end, but according to the letter, sanctions relief must be on the table if Iran is expected to accept a variety of US demands, including halting its 20 percent enriched uranium accumulation, restricting enrichment to “normal reactor-grade levels”, limiting its stockpiles and “securing more extensive and effective IAEA inspections including through Iranian adherence to the Additional Protocol to the NPT and other inspection needs of the IAEA.”

The letter endorsees include a variety of national security experts, including Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to Gen. Colin Powell, General Joseph P. Hoar, the former Commander in Chief to US Central Command, and Wayne White, the former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence — a Lobe Log contributor. Non-proliferation experts and diplomats from all over the world also make the list, including Daryl G. Kimball, the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association and Amb. Peter Jenkins, the former UK Ambassador the IAEA, also both contributors to this blog.

The letter comes at a time when the prospects for diplomacy are once again being challenged by each side’s willingness to make the strides necessary to reach a deal, along with a possible military conflict looming quietly (for now) in the background. No date has been set for resumed talks yet. According to Laura Rozen, Iran has yet to respond to deputy EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s Dec. 12 meetings proposal.

Following is the letter’s entire text and list of endorsees.

December 6, 2012

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your reelection as President of the United States. Over the course of your first term, you made clear your desire to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue diplomatically in order to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and prevent war with Iran. 

We strongly support this goal and, as you prepare to enter your second term, strongly encourage you to take immediate action to reengage in the direct multilateral and bilateral diplomacy with Iran necessary to achieve this goal. We are directing the same appeal to Iran. Time is of the essence, and we hope you will utilize the weeks and months ahead to pursue a robust diplomatic initiative.

A decade has elapsed since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran was building a uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. Since then, Iran and the United States and Western governments have missed several opportunities to reach an agreement that reduces the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Today, Iran does not yet have the necessary ingredients for an effective nuclear arsenal, apparently has not resumed work on the actual construction of such a weapon, and may not yet have made a strategic decision to do so. But its capabilities are improving. By the end of 2013, Iran could install more-advanced centrifuges and significantly increase its 20% enriched-uranium stockpile. It continues work on a heavy water reactor at Arak and continues to expand the Fordow plant. The time available for diplomacy must not be wasted.

International sanctions have slowed Iran’s program and increased pressure on Tehran dramatically. Yet these sanctions, even if tightened further, are unlikely to stop Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Further, they risk damaging the reputation of the United States in the eyes of ordinary Iranians suffering from the effects of the sanctions.

The military option, short of a complete military occupation of the country, can only temporarily set back Iran’s program and could likely prompt Iran to eject the IAEA inspectors and actively pursue a nuclear weapon. Such action would be counterproductive and costly, and would risk ending a negotiation option, eroding sanctions, lessening Iran’s isolation and triggering a regional war that leads to enormous civilian casualties and human suffering.

Therefore, we encourage you to direct your team vigorously to pursue serious, sustained negotiations with the Iranian government on an arrangement that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran. With greater determination, creativity, and persistence, we believe that such a deal is within reach.

Overall goals for U.S. and P5+1 negotiators should include: halting Iran’s accumulation of 20 percent enriched uranium; restricting‹not permanently suspending–Iran’s enrichment to normal reactor-grade levels; limiting its stockpiles to actual nuclear power and other civilian, peaceful needs; and securing more extensive and effective IAEA inspections including through Iranian adherence to the Additional Protocol to the NPT and other inspection needs of the IAEA. Iran should account for previous weapons-related experiments to ensure that they have been halted. In exchange, there should be an appropriate and proportional paring back of international sanctions on Iran.

As a first step, we urge you and your team to pursue a revised proposal calling for a verifiable halt to Iran’s accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium including export of the material or conversion to metallic form in Iran in exchange for a reciprocal relaxing some of international and financial sanctions imposed on Iran. This would build confidence and momentum for a long-term framework agreement covering nuclear cooperation and security issues as well as a fully transparent future for Iran’s civil nuclear program in full and verified accordance with the NPT.

A diplomacy-centric approach is the only option that can prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and a war, and address other equally critical areas including Iran’s human rights situation. Pursuing such a course is difficult, but it is the best option on the table.

We urge you to act.

Sincerely,

Barry Blechman, co-founder of the Stimson Center

Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan

Sir Richard Dalton, Former UK Ambassador to Iran

Amb. James Dobbins, Former Assistant Secretary of State

Amb. Rolf Ekeus, Former Director of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq

Prof. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Amb. Chas Freeman, Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. Former President of National Defense University

General Joseph P. Hoar, Former Commander in Chief, United States Central Command

Amb. Steen Hohw-Christensen, Former Ambassador of Sweden to Iran

Amb. Peter Jenkins, Former Ambassador of the UK to the IAEA

Brig. General John Johns, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Larry Korb, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense

Amb. John Limbert, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran

Amb. François Nicoullaud, Former Ambassador of France to Iran

Dr. Trita Parsi, President, National Iranian American Council

Bruno Pellaud, Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Amb. Thomas Pickering, Former Under Secretary of State

Paul Pillar, Former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, Central Intelligence Agency

Amb. Roberto Toscano, Former Ambassador of Italy to Iran

Dr. Jim Walsh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program

Col. Larry Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Gen. Colin Powell

Wayne White, Former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence

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About the Author

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Jasmin Ramsey is the editor of LobeLog and a journalist with a special focus on US-Iran relations. Her articles have appeared in numerous print and online publications including the Inter Press Service (IPS News), the Guardian, Al Jazeera English, Le Monde Diplomatique and Guernica Magazine. You can email her at jasmin[dot]ramsey[at]gmail[dot]com.



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