Washington, DC – A longstanding U.S. policy that prevents American diplomats from communicating with their Iranian counterparts is the focus of a new House bill aimed at reinvigorating U.S.-Iran diplomacy.
Ten Members of Congress—9 Democrats and 1 Republican—introduced the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act (H.R. 4173), which would not only lift the “no contact policy” but would also establish a U.S. envoy to lead direct, bilateral negotiations with Iran without preconditions.
The measure, led by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), suggests diplomacy is the only solution that can implement verification mechanisms to ensure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, effectively address Iran’s human rights situation, and prevent a war with Iran.
The bill states, “While the Obama Administration has rejected failed policies of the past by engaging in negotiations with Iran without preconditions, only four of such meetings have occurred.”
Under the United States’ current “no contact policy,” that the bill would rescind, U.S. officials have been prohibited from making any contact with officials of the Government of Iran without first acquiring consent from the Secretary of State.
The legislation cautions that diplomacy must be sustained and will not provide a quick fix. “All of the outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran cannot be resolved instantaneously,” the bill states. “Resolving such issues will require a robust, sustained effort.” Eliminating the “no contact policy” and establishing a diplomatic envoy could help ensure that diplomatic efforts are sustained and serious, rather than ad hoc and temporary.
The authors of the bill also refer to the call for direct diplomacy by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who has said, ‘‘I’m talking about any channel that’s open. We’ve not had a direct link of communication with Iran since 1979. And I think that has planted many seeds for miscalculation. When you miscalculate, you can escalate and misunderstand.’’
Efforts to support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian standoff have ramped up in recent weeks in response to growing concern about a potential military confrontation.
Earlier this month, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Walter Jones (R-NC) co-authored a letter to President Obama, signed by thirty-seven members of congress, which urged the president to redouble bilateral and multilateral engagement efforts with Iran in order to establish transparency measures that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program does not move towards weaponization.
Last week, a statement from eight former U.S. military and intelligence officials addressed to President Obama was published in a full-page ad in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The ad, sponsored by the National Iranian American Council, urged the President to resist pressure for war, which the signatories said was “dangerous” and “unnecessary at this stage.” The officials cautioned, “Our brave service men and women expect you to exhaust all diplomatic options before sending them into harm’s way.”
It was announced later that a new round of multilateral diplomacy between the UN Security Council’s permanent five members plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran would take place, likely in April. The talks, which European and U.S. officials have said must be part of a “sustained” diplomatic effort, will be the first official negotiations involving Iran and the United States in over a year.