In the last eight years, Bush always brought a loaded gun to the bargaining table in hopes of persuading Iran to cease uranium enrichment. But this time, let’s change the tone of nuclear talks from the Real World to something I like to call “Supercouple Love.” If Iran and America are ever to work out their petty differences and unite much like Brangelina, Bennifer and TomKat, then we need collaboration. We need Iramerica.
The U.S. ended diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic during the Iranian Revolution in 1980. Since then, hampering Iran’s plans to produce large amounts of nuclear fuel (supposedly for nuclear power plants) has been, well, difficult.
During the last administration, Bush and his hawkish goons employed a simple tactic: Punish first, negotiate second. They barricaded European nationals from lending money and peppered the Persian Gulf with battle destroyers. Washington senior officials thought that manhandling Iran would eventually force Ahmadinejad to give up his dream of nuclear power.
In the end, their intentions were good, but the approach failed miserably. In an interview with the New York Times, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, “They thought that if you threatened enough and pounded the table and sent Cheney off to act like Darth Vader, the Iranians would just stop.” Both Ahmadinejad and the Bush administration had dug their heels into the ground and nobody was moving.
In 2003, Iran dispatched a secret agreement to the United States, which stated that they would halt “material support to Palestinian opposition groups in exchange for U.S. acknowledgment of their sovereignty and respect for their power status.” Furthermore, Iran accepted strict regulations by the Atomic Energy Agency as long as they could still use nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. Bush would not concede that last part, and he decided to ignore this Holy Grail of treaties, spurring resentment by Iranian officials and restarting the entire process.
Enter Obama. Since he has assumed the Presidency, he has invited talks with Ahmadinejad without requiring the precondition of halting fuel production. Once they are both at the bargaining table, Obama should shift the Bush-era strategy from anti-nuclear fuel to anti-nuclear bomb. Special Ops can always wipe out their production facilities in Tehran, but a successful partnership requires conciliation and compromise.
“Iramerica” should involve pragmatic diplomacy, not moral absolutism. In order to make substantial progress (impeding nuclear bombs, dissolving Hezbollah and securing peace with Israel), I offer Obama a few recommendations.
First, recognize Iran as a regional power and end cross-border hostilities. By meeting Iran’s 2003 peace terms, Obama can assuage anti-Western sentiments and gradually accumulate trust. As reciprocity, Iran should terminate contracts with Palestinian armed groups and negotiate a new peace treaty with Israel.
Second, invite Iran as a conciliatory partner in the Afghanistan conflict. Taliban activities over the past few years have prompted refugees to seek safety in Iran, decreasing available space and spurring an opium trade. Having another ally in the Middle East will help the U.S. control political instability and quell fears over a militant Iran.
Third, forget about regime change. Usurping power over circumstantial evidence of WMDs sounds a little too familiar. We can, however, tip political opposition in our favor by appealing to moderate Iranian voices in the next election. On June 12, Iranians will vote for a new leader and powerful moderate groups will not be backing the hyper-conservative Ahmadinejad, whose hard-line clerics have been the main anti-Obama voices.
Fourth, release Iranian frozen assets and annul any economic sanctions. With liquid cash flowing through the government’s impoverished veins, Iran will increase its dependence on the U.S. Yet, Obama should request the right to oversee and limit all nuclear facility activity, while respecting their request to obtain a peaceful nuclear power reactor.
Of course, tackling these problems is dependent on the volatile actions of other regional partners, including Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Russia. Nevertheless, Obama needs to act now to ensure the situation does not worsen. Let this be the summer of love.