A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
Joe Volk: Iran Elections; Diplomacy Still the Strong HandIRAN ELECTIONS: DIPLOMACY STILL THE STRONG HAND
By Joe Volk, Executive Secretary
The controversy in Iran over the results of the June 12 presidential elections should not deter the Obama administration from engaging in direct talks with Iran for a new U.S.-Iran relationship.
In Washington, that statement is controversial and highly debatable. Why? Some in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and many in Congress believe that negotiating with Iran is an undeserved reward to the leaders of that country. Some also believe that negotiating with the leader of another country amounts to an endorsement of that leader. Some argue that it would be wrong to negotiate with a country that is perceived to be a threat to U.S. allies and would enhance the standing of a leader who opposing politicians have accused of rigging an election. In sum, they argue, negotiating with Iran would be immoral.
In the last two years, I’ve met three times with the current Iranian president (both in Iran and here in the United States) and with opposition leaders. In my experience, Iranian leaders from across that political spectrum have demonstrated an interest in improving relations with the United States and in reducing the tensions between our two countries. President Barack Obama has begun an important process of reaching out to develop better diplomatic ties between our two countries, and I would urge him to stay the course.
Of course, opponents of improved relations between the United States and Iran will argue that now is the moment for more threats, more sanctions, and more confrontation. We at FCNL will be urging the president, the Congress, and the American people to continue to test the possibility that, by working together, Iran and the United States can reduce tensions between our two countries, address the reasonable concerns in Iran about security and in the United States about nuclear weapons proliferation and, perhaps, even work together to promote peace in the greater Middle East.
As a Quaker lobby, we ground our policy and our lobbying in the faith and practice of the Friends community. Because of this grounding, I’m particularly concerned about a twist in the moral argument advanced by some people in the United States that is based on the precept that the U.S. supports human rights and freedom. The argument goes that, if another country violates human rights and if the people in that country are not free, then the United States can advance human rights and freedom by a carrot-and-stick approach. The “carrot”: “If you improve your human rights record and if you free your people, then you can get negotiations with the world’s greatest power, the United States” And the Teddy Roosevelt “stick”: “if you fail to meet the U.S. standard, then you’ll be isolated, starved, and destabilized by covert action.”
This so-called moral approach to deciding whether, with whom, and when to negotiate has been tried, and it failed with the Peoples Republic of China, North Korea, and Cuba.
The United States eventually succeeded with China, when it de-linked peace and disarmament negotiations from the important and valid freedom and human rights agendas. The case of North Korea is a muddle today; we can’t say what, if anything works. Fidel Castro enjoyed the safety of a U.S. embargo and complete isolation from the United States, and, as a result, his regime prospered, though the human rights and political freedom of the people of Cuba did not improve.
The “tough” U.S. position on negotiations is really a gift to the dictator and the “soft” approach is the winning strategy. The Nixon-Kissinger opening to China led to China opening to the world. That opening began an internal change process which has yet to reach a conclusion; however, the arc of that change process points in the direction of human rights and freedom for the people of China. De-linking the peace and disarmament agenda from the human rights and freedom agenda in negotiations actually results in an amalgam of those important agendas, the cause of human security is well served. These examples demonstrate that diplomacy is still the U.S. strong hand from the deck of options of what to do with Iran.
U.S. negotiations with Iran for a new grand bargain, in which threat levels are reduced and confidence levels are increased, will lead to business, scholastic, scientific, and travel exchanges which will ultimately enhance human security in Iran, among U.S. allies, and even here in the United States
No matter who is the confirmed winner of Iran’s presidential election, direct talks toward a new relationship between the United States and Iran are in the national interest of both countries and of Iran’s neighbors and U.S. allies. Direct talks between the United States and Iran will also sooner or later help those arguing for political reforms and greater respect for human rights. When the United States can no longer be portrayed as a threat to the Islamic Republic, movement for positive change will be harder to suppress. War -- and a continuation of a “pre-war” threat – will not be the answer in U.S. relations with Iran and is not in the interest of either country or in the interests of Iran’s neighbors or U.S. allies. Peace, as well as human rights and freedom, can be achieved through peaceful means. Indeed, those are the only means that will get us there.