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October 15, 2012

Former Ambassadors Say U.S., Iran on Path to War


“If I wanted Iran to get the bomb, I’d keep doing what we’re doing,” Robert Hunter, former US Ambassador to NATO, told a full house at NIAC’s second Annual Leadership Conference. “And if I were Iran and wanted to get attacked, I’d keep doing what they’re doing.”

Ambassador Hunter was one of a trio of academic and political leaders in the first of three panels last week at NIAC’s 2012 Leadership Conference in DC. The experts voiced highly critical appraisals of both the US and Iran’s handling of the current crisis.

Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to Israel and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the success of the sanctions-heavy, diplomacy-light policy with Iran “hovers between 0 and 5” on a scale of 100.

Professor Farideh Farhi, a renowned scholar at the University of Hawaii, also criticized the U.S. policy of focusing on pressure over Iran’s nuclear program to the detriment of the pro-democracy movement in Iran. “Look at what happened in the United States after 9/11 – a country under threat becomes securitized,” said Farhi. Sanctions and the threat of war have reinforced the Iranian government’s efforts to crack down on pro-democratic forces, Farhi argued.

Hunter expressed his views on sanctions more bluntly, exclaiming “Sanctions don’t work. Sanctions don’t work. Sanctions don’t work.”

There was unanimous agreement on the disastrous results of war. “If you didn’t want Iran to build a nuclear weapon, a military attack now would be the worst of all possible circumstances,” Pickering argued. Pickering cited the findings of a major study by former U.S. military and diplomatic officials, who concluded that a military attack “would provide the excuse and maybe the driver to move the Iranian program into weaponization and would lead to expulsion of the IAEA.”

Hunter leveraged his credentials to boldly claim that war with Iran “would be nuts” and that no great power should allow another country to force its hand on starting a war.

Complimenting his critique, Ambassador Pickering proposed a “simple first package” to break the current stalemate between the U.S. and Iran. Under Pickering’s proposal, the U.S. would accept an Iranian enrichment program while placing significant restrictions on this activity to ensure Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon. In return for Iran accepting these safeguards, the U.S. would provide a “step-by-step gradual reduction in sanctions.”

Pickering noted the current format of talks between international powers and Iran limits back and forth negotiations, and suggested that “Negotiations should proceed in a way that opens up the entire panoply of differences between Iran and the US.” To achieve this, Pickering argued the U.S. should seek “arduously to open a door to one-on-one conversations between the United States and Iran.” The last bilateral talks between the U.S. and Iran occurred in 2009.

All the panelists agreed that politics and years of built up enmity made negotiations even more difficult. Farhi challenged the audience of Iranian American leaders to challenge this dangerous dynamic. “Demand common sense from your politicians,” Farhi exclaimed.




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