The group, co-chaired by former U.N. Amb. Thomas Pickering and James Dobbins, a top diplomatic troubleshooter under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, called instead for the new administration to "open the door to direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations at the senior diplomatic level," as well as unofficial contacts and exchanges.
"Paradoxical as it may seem amid all the heated media rhetoric, sustained engagement is far more likely to strengthen United States national security at this stage than either escalation to war or continued efforts to threaten, intimidate or coerce Iran," according to the group, which also assailed what it called eight "myths" propagated by neo-conservatives and other hawks who have been pushing for greater pressure on Tehran to give in to western demands that it halt its nuclear programme.
The "Joint Experts’ Statement on Iran", the product of several months of internal discussions, comes amid growing speculation that the Bush administration will try to open a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran in the two months left in its tenure to help lay the groundwork for direct diplomatic engagement with Iran, which Obama promised during the presidential campaign.
It also comes amid intensified jockeying among various factions and individuals for key Middle East-related posts in the incoming administration. Amb. Dennis Ross, an Obama adviser who led peace negotiations between
Ross, who, along with several other hawkish Obama advisers, was a charter member of United Against Nuclear Iran, signed a recent report drafted by two prominent neo-conservatives which argued that a deterrence would not work against a nuclear-capable Iran because of the "Islamic Republic’s extremist ideology".
The report, sponsored by the "Bipartisan Policy Centre", also argued that the new president should make clear from his first day in office that he was prepared to militarily attack Iran with force if, in the face of escalating U.S. and international pressure on Tehran, it did not give up enriching uranium on its soil.
During his campaign, Obama stated on several occasions that
At the same time, however, he has repeatedly stressed that he would engage
The Experts’ Statement, however, argues that a punitive sanctions approach, let alone a military attack, has been and is likely to continue to be counter-productive. "U.S. efforts to manage Iran through isolation, threats and sanctions have been tried intermittently for more than two decades," according to the group, which was also co-chaired by Columbia University Prof. Gary Sick, who dealt with Iran on the National Security Council staff of former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.
"In that time they have not solved any major problem in U.S.-Iran relations, and have made most of them worse," it noted.
"Threats are not cowing
The statement said retaining the threat of tougher sanctions if negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme fail is justifiable, but that the nuclear issue should be raised as part of a broader U.S.-Iran opening and that would include "the credible prospect of security assurances and specific, tangible benefits such as the easing of U.S. sanctions in response to positive policy shifts in Iran."
The new administration should also appoint a special envoy both to deal "comprehensively and constructively with
Dobbins, Bush’s special envoy for Afghanistan and currently director of the International Security programme at the RAND Corporation, has repeatedly praised Iran’s cooperation with U.S. efforts in ousting the Taliban and al Qaeda after 9/11 and setting up the government of President Hamid Karzai there.
The statement also stressed that a "
The statement also addressed certain "myths" which it said had been used by
Citing specific examples of Tehran’s foreign policy pragmatism over past two decades, including its secret arms trade with Israel and active support for the U.S. in Afghanistan, the statement asserts that Iran’s "recent history…makes crystal clear that national self-preservation and regional influence — not some quest for martyrdom in the service of Islam — is Iran’s main foreign policy goal."
It also cited declarations by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that
"The only effective way to illuminate — and constructively alter —
Besides the three co-chairs, the group’s members included Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior CIA officer who served as director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Programme; Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran; and academic specialists on Iran, Shi’a Islam, and nuclear proliferation and technology.