Foreign relations experts said the United States should implement a broader worldview of Iran in battling new challenges in the negotiation process.
“When engaging in discussions with Iran, there’s been a history of ignoring this reality. You cannot engage in a country when you’re demanding they do things they’re internal politics will not allow,” said Professor Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii.
The United States Institute of Peace discussed the probability of establishing negotiations between Iran and the United States in light of the recent election controversy and tension regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
“If we go into a negotiation with Iranians and the only thing that we want to talk about is the nuclear issue, we will fail for a very simple reason,” said Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
“The Iranian side, rightly or wrongly, has cast this issue as a matter of national pride, national right and respect,” he said.
John Limbert, ambassador to Mauritania and a hostage during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, said the most important factor in establishing relations with Iran is the United States’ acknowledgement of Iran’s history and discrediting its “Angry Mullah” image.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Associated Press Tuesday that he hopes the United States could see Iran as an “opportunity” rather than a “threat.” He said President Obama should “revisit history and read it again to see what the fate is of viewing these problems from this perspective. Historically, whoever made friend with Iran saw a lot of opportunities.”
“We may not agree on much, but on that, we agree,” said Limbert. “Historians and anyone familiar with that country know very well that there’s much more to Iran and much more to talking with Iran than the absurdities of President Ahmadinejad and the nastiness of the current system.”
The panel concurred that the stereotypes and power struggle from both countries have impeded peace efforts. Ayatollah Khomeni famously called the U.S. a “wolf” in reference to its handling of Middle Eastern countries.
“There is a view… that they [Iranians] are too fanatical, too xenophobic, too unreasonable, too suspicious to deal with. On the other side, there’s an Iranian view…that America’s purpose in negotiating with Iran isn’t to reach an agreement between equals but to humiliate Iran,” said Limbert.
Debate ensured over whether or not now was the right time to engage Iran in negotiations.
“There’s been some vigorous debate in our media about whether we should even be negotiating with bad guys,” said President of the U.S. Institute of Peace Richard Solomon.
Farhi said the rising internal conflict in Iran would limit its capability for negotiation on a national level. She also referenced the large population of Iranians who still feel the U.S hasn’t served Iran’s interests for the past 30 years.
“I think this is a particularly bad time to engage in negotiations with Iran. I would have told [the Obama administration] them to forget about the clocks, look the other way for a few months,” she said.
Carla Avendano, a graduate student from American University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, disagreed on the notion of waiting for negotiation.
“Then, when is a good time? There’s always going to be conflict in the world—a point when one of each country is not going to want to step it up or talk about it,” said Avendano. “They have to realize that, it just can’t be about nuclear. It has to be about how Iran can be an international player in the community.”
Pollack concluded by stressing the need for mutual respect and clarity of the negotiation’s intentions.
“I used to have virtual epileptic seizures whenever Condi Rice would say ‘we’re not going to legitimize the Iranian regime by negotiating with them.’ That’s completely misguided,” said Pollack. “We need to think about how our actions will effect the Iranian people.”