Iran: Will talks happen under Obama?
A period of reestablishing relations with Iran's partners seems likely. Also expect contacts with lower-tier Iranian officials.
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Why? Mr. Cirincione cites Iran's presidential election in June. "We want to see how domestic politics play out in the Iranian elections next year," he said Tuesday, speaking to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington. "You don't want Ahmadinejad to be given the credit for bringing Iran to the table."Skip to next paragraph
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What the US should begin immediately, he adds, is making and cultivating contacts with Iranian diplomats on issues that matter to both countries, like stability in Iraq and Afghanistan and Persian Gulf security. That approach gets a nod from James Dobbins, who developed a working relationship with numerous Iranian officials when he served in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations – at least until President Bush cut off contacts with Iran.
"My own view is that dialogue with Iran is not going to lead to immediate results," said Mr. Dobbins, now at the RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va., who also spoke to the NIAC Tuesday. "But [we should] allow diplomats to speak to Iranians, free [them] to engage Iranians."
Another possible initiative is the opening of a US interests section office – a step below a full embassy. This would put US diplomats in Tehran to cultivate contacts with a wide array of Iranians, including academics and students. The Bush administration had been expected to announce the opening of an interests section this summer, but Mr. Bush opted not to inject such an attention-grabbing decision into the presidential race, sources who were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue say.
Yet even as most Middle East experts downplay the chances of any quick breakthroughs with Iran, some insist that prospects could nevertheless be enhanced by diplomatic initiatives with the potential for indirect impact on Iran.
One example is improved relations with Russia. "It's our mishandling of the Russia portfolio that has emboldened the Iranians," says Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center in Washington.
Fixing that relationship, he adds, "would send a very tough signal to the Iranians that they might want to reconsider their policies." Mr. Kemp says he anticipates an early effort from the Obama administration for another round of international economic sanctions against Iran.
The Obama administration should also make plain early on that it supports the Israeli-Syrian dialogue, Kemp adds, thereby signaling to Iran that a new American approach is at work in the region – one that engages Tehran's assumed partners. That may not halt Iran's nuclear program, but altogether the efforts might lead Tehran toward a compromise on uranium enrichment, Kemp says, "and buy us some time."