July 15, 2013


Why It's Time to Talk to Our New 'Iranian Friends' (PATRICK SMITH, 7/15/13, The Fiscal Times)
What are Rouhini's ambitions? It is vital that the US understands them if it is to engage Iran constructively. Highest among them is to bring the Islamic republic out of its pariah stage. Talk to an Iranian and you will know: What pains the nation most is its isolation--economic, yes, but it is more than that. It's cultural, it's technological, it's joining the global community altogether.
Iranians consider themselves roughly on a par with the BRICS, the emerging middle-income nations now driving so much of the world economy: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. They are right. Iran should be standing among the BRICS. And it knows it has to reach out to do so. [...]

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama White House has decided to take Rouhani's accommodating signals seriously. This Tuesday US officials will meet in Brussels where a group called P5 + 1 will debate how best to approach Tehran. P5 + 1 is comprised of the Security Council's permanent members--the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia--plus Germany. This session deserves applause. Rouhani has serious things to talk about. He wants a new generation of relationships.

There remain all kinds of factions in Iran; there are plenty of "hardliners" in important places, and many things remain to be seen. But Rouhani--who won office with a 51 percent majority in the first round of voting--represents a powerful constituency that favors engagement over confrontation. My biggest worry: It is an outstanding question whether Washington will accept Iran for what it is or insist that enmity is the only option.

Having covered Iran briefly during the Khatami years, it seems to me that when a reformist appears, so do opportunities. Cultivating them requires no more risk than anyone in Washington is willing to take. Ignoring them will have costs: The US would undercut Iranians who favor diplomacy and boost those who prefer the kind of dreadful atmosphere Ahmadinejad did so much to engender. 

The P5 + 1 talks this week are a splendid start. I hope they consider the Syria question as well as the nuke program. A couple of weeks ago the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institute, published a report urging a wide range of cultural, scientific, security, and even artistic and athletic exchanges. "Cultural and academic exchanges between the U.S. and Iran are a low-cost, high-yield investment in a future normal relationship between the two countries," the research paper said.

Posted by at July 15, 2013 5:03 AM

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