Pressure mounts on Obama to change tactics on Iran
In a letter to the White House, Iran experts insisted diplomacy, not further sanctions, will have the best results. But US actions since then indicate more sticks than carrots.
Arguing that further sanctions "are unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear pursuits," a group of Iran experts and senior former officials are calling on the White House to pursue realistic, "serious, sustained negotiations" with Tehran that they say are the best chance to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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The letter to President Obama, from 24 signatories whose professional careers have often been marked by dealing firsthand with the thorny Iran issue, suggests that a diplomatic deal can ease the West's greatest fears about Iran's nuclear program – but only if Washington revises its position in nuclear talks that are expected to resume within weeks.
"A diplomacy-centric approach is the only option that can prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and a war," write the 24 signatories in the Dec. 6 letter only now made public. Success will require "reciprocal" steps and an "appropriate and proportional paring back of international sanctions on Iran," they write.
The letter proposes a deal that Tehran has signaled repeatedly in the past year it is willing to accept, given the right circumstances: stopping production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is a few technical steps away from bomb-grade; and allowing a more intrusive inspections regime. In exchange, Tehran wants recognition of its right to enrich for peaceful purposes and a lifting of sanctions.
But the appeal to Mr. Obama comes as Congress prepares to enact further sanctions against Iran in coming days. And news reports indicate that the United States has already decided not to fundamentally change a negotiating stance, rejected by Iran in previous rounds of talks this year, which demands Iran make concessions before the US entertains any prospect of sanctions relief.
US stays its course
Overall goals for the US and other members of the P5+1 (Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany), the letter advises, should be "restricting – not permanently suspending" Iran's enrichment levels to below 5 percent and accounting for past weapons-related work.
"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," states the letter. "With greater determination, creativity, and persistence, we believe such a deal is within reach."
Among the signatories are ranking former US diplomatic officials Thomas Pickering, James Dobbins, John Limbert, and Chas Freeman. They include Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish former director of United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq; former senior British diplomats Sir Richard Dalton and Peter Jenkins, as well as other European ambassadors; and big names from the US military and intelligence: Gen. Joseph Hoar, Brig. Gen. John Johns, Larry Korb, and Paul Pillar.