A Window of Opportunity with Iran

In a sea of skepticism over U.S. policy on Iran, new developments are signaling progress toward a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program.

Last month, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen emphasized the need for dialogue with Iran. He pointed out that even at the height of the Cold War, U.S. communication with the Soviet Union never ceased completely. “We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world,” said Adm. Mullen. “Any channel [of communication] would be terrific.”

Iran may also be warming to engagement. Last month at the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly extended an offer that Iran would cease some of its most concerning nuclear activities if the U.S. would agree to sell it specialized fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes for cancer patients. Harvard’s Graham Allison said, “Obama should seize this proposal and send negotiators straightaway to hammer out specifics".

Ali Vaez and Charles D. Ferguson of Ploughshares Fund grantee the Federation of American Scientists put this deal in perspective in an op-ed in The New York Times.

“Such a move would be, above all, a humanitarian gesture, and it would buy Washington good will with the Iranian people and undermine the regime’s anti-American, nationalistic propaganda. But it would be a humanitarian gesture with strategic benefits: curtailing Iran’s enrichment activities and potentially cutting the Gordian knot that has stalled the West’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

Such initiatives are rare chances for breaking the impasse with Iran. Of course, the U.S. and Iran have a knack for missing opportunities. But even when diplomatic efforts fall short, it yields benefits for U.S. interests.

As Matthew Duss of the Center for American Progress, a Ploughshares Fund grantee, wrote recently in Foreign Policy:

“In addition to avoiding the sort of accidental flare-ups of which Adm. Mullen warned, keeping the door of negotiations open, while maintaining targeted sanctions, will keep open the space for Iran's leaders to compromise, and keep alive the chances of reaching the best possible scenario for the international community: finding a peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear program.”

It is impossible to predict the future of our relationship with Iran. Opportunities to resolve the situation can fade just as quickly as they emerged. Yet it is increasingly clear that efforts at diplomacy with Iran have only benefited America’s interests. Recent events suggest greater potential to continue this trend, meaning a greater opportunity for movement in the right direction.

Photo by davehighbury on Flickr