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Opinion

Obama must offer a 'grand deal' with Iran on its nuclear program

The current trajectory is headed toward a violent endgame, writes this former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiators. The Obama administration needs a new engagement policy with Iran that brings an end to 33 years of a failed 'diplomacy plus pressure' policy dubbed as 'dual-track.'

By Seyed Hossein Mousavian / November 28, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a ceremony in Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April 9, 2007. Op-ed contributor Seyed Hossein Mousavian says it's encouraging that President Ahmadinejad 'recently stated that the now politicized dispute over Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved by direct talks between Iran and the United States.'

Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP/file

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Princeton, N.J.

For Iran, the nuclear crisis has become the most important national security and foreign policy challenge since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

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The country may not be losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians to a hot war. But it is enduring the most severe sanctions in its history, foreign assassinations of its scientists, and international pressure that has shaken the foundation of its relations regionally, and with Western and Eastern powers. It would not be unrealistic to conclude that Iran has already paid the price for a nuclear bomb.

And yet Iran has not relinquished its uranium enrichment rights under the Non Proliferation Treaty, and instead has become more resolute and defiant. Today it has about 10,000 nuclear centrifuges and has mastered uranium enrichment to the 20-percent grade level – defying the UN Security Council and the West by bringing its enrichment capacity to a “point of no return.” 

With both sides scoring such high points, this duel could be interpreted as a win-win game, with the West squeezing Iran as never before and Iran’s nuclear program continuing on. I would suggest, however, it is really a lose-lose one, with a trajectory headed toward a violent endgame. This, though, can be avoided with a grand deal.

It’s encouraging that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently stated that the now politicized dispute over Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved by direct talks between Iran and the United States. This is a major shift in the Iranian president’s understanding.

When I visited Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 as a possible candidate to work for the foreign ministry, we discussed Iran-US relations and the role of the US on the nuclear file. At that time, he disagreed with my recommendation to bolster dialogue with the West – including the US  – to resolve the nuclear dilemma. He saw enrichment as a technical, legal issue, a legitimate right for Iran under the Non Proliferation Treaty. I cautioned that for the West, it is neither a legal nor technical issue issue, but a political one, which requires direct talks with the US to be resolved.

Whether his recent comments are a matter of consensus within Iran, however, remains a big question.

Another question is whether President Obama will be able to orchestrate a “real engagement” with Iran – in contrast to his first term where he applied devastating unilateral and international sanctions, pressure, covert operations, and an intelligence war. Those measures only contributed to further tensions and a thickening of the wall of mistrust between the two nations – wiping any chance of rapprochement off the political map.

The Obama administration needs a new engagement policy with Iran that brings an end to 33 years of a failed “diplomacy plus pressure” policy dubbed as “dual-track.” The Iranian leadership values actions over words – particularly since Mr. Obama’s pleasantries have coincided with the most draconian sanctions and measures applied on Iran.

In the second term, it is time for the Obama administration to offer Iran a “grand deal,” where dual-track diplomacy is supported by constructive actions to prove his sincerity. Such a strategy needs to be drafted and implemented wisely, in both substance and style, to prevent previous failures and bring a real change to US-Iran relations. It also requires Iran to accommodate such policy by taking appropriate steps to facilitate the trend.

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