July 25, 2008

Seven Senators Call for US Interests Section in Iran

Seven senators have taken a pro-active approach to recent talk about opening up an interest section in Iran. On Thursday, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the President to offer congressional support for a limited diplomatic presence in the country.  The following is  the press release from Senator Murray’s  office.
“We know that a hands-off approach has isolated us and strengthened Iran,” said Sen. Kerry. “The Administration’s decision to reverse course and join direct talks with Tehran is the right one, however late. While the United States has remained on the sidelines and outsourced our diplomacy to Europe, Iran used that time to continue to master the nuclear fuel cycle and get closer to a nuclear weapons capability. Even if direct dialogue fails to reach an agreement, we will be armed with new leverage that strengthens our hand with Europe, Russia, and China to impose tougher sanctions and begin to reverse this dynamic.”
“I am pleased that the administration seems to be more open to engaging with the people of Iran,” said Sen. Feingold. “This sends a more positive message about our objectives and should enhance our ability to understand the political dynamics in Tehran, something that is sorely missing today. If Iranians are able to interact with Americans on a more regular and consistent basis they will be less likely to believe the negative rhetoric promoted by their government.”
“American strength, in part, resonates from our openness and visibility overseas,” said Sen. Durbin. “A robust international presence helps facilitate understanding between peoples and provides our diplomats with a far greater understanding of complex international situations. While we continue to work with our allies to put a halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, we should also reach out directly to the Iranian people and expand America’s diplomatic presence in this vital region of the world.”
“Opening an Interests Section would give the United States a formal diplomatic presence in Iran, and would be a positive step for two countries that have not had a diplomatic relationship for 30 years now,” said Sen. Feinstein. “I strongly support a robust diplomatic effort with Iran, and opening an Interests Section would be a step in the right direction. It would increase direct contacts between the American and Iranian people, assist Iranians wishing to travel to the United States, and improve our understanding or Iranian society. I strongly support this move.”
“An interests section in Iran would provide the base for diplomatic efforts with the Iranian public that has been missing for nearly 30 years,” said Sen. Murray. “It would facilitate travel, encourage an exchange of ideas, and allow us to communicate our common values with the people, despite our many differences with their government. It would also help us to better understand a country whose fate is so intertwined with our own national security. I urge the President to move forward with laying this important diplomatic groundwork because the stakes are simply too high not to.”
Full text of the letter is follows:
July 24, 2008
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are encouraged by recent revelations that your Administration is actively reviewing the possibility of opening an interests section in Iran, and write to express our support for this limited but strategically significant U.S. diplomatic presence. By establishing direct contact with the people of Iran, facilitating their travel to America, and increasing our understanding of Iran’s complicated domestic politics, this initiative will advance our national interests.
Along with your welcome decision to send Under Secretary of State William Burns to Geneva to join in talks with Iran over its nuclear program, this will send a positive message to the Iranian people and the international community about our intentions and enhance our ability to apply greater pressure on the Iranian government.
As you know, Iranians are among the most pro-American people in the Greater Middle East. Many hold the United States in high regard as a country that cherishes the values of freedom, tolerance, and human dignity. Despite our strong differences with their government over its nuclear ambitions, support for international terrorism, and hateful rhetoric towards Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said that “[w]e are determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people.” Opening an interests section in Iran, as we have done in other countries such as Cuba, is a highly-visible way of accomplishing this important objective.
The United States has not had any diplomatic presence in Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979. As a result, Iranians who are interested in traveling to the United States must go to Dubai to obtain U.S. visas, impeding familial, cultural, and scientific exchanges that over time can begin to transform Iran. The more frequently that ordinary Iranians have an opportunity to interact with Americans, the more likely they are to ignore their government’s propaganda demonizing our country.
At the same time, a limited diplomatic presence in Iran would improve our understanding of the competing political factions that influence Tehran’s decision-making. As Under Secretary Burns recently acknowledged, our knowledge of Iran’s political and policy-making processes is currently rather limited. Iran already operates an active interests section in Washington, DC, ostensibly for these types of reasons, so our own diplomats are at a relative information disadvantage.
While we recognize that this initiative alone will not resolve our profound disagreements with Iran’s leaders, we believe it is a step in the right direction with the Iranian people. If it comes to pass, we look forward to working with your Administration to provide any necessary congressional support.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your reply.


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