Diplomacy Bridging the U.S-Iranian Divide

by Arafat Kabir

In recent weeks, the world has witnessed some historic diplomatic achievements in solving a few of our world’s most pressing issues. From averting war in Syria to the unprecedented telephone diplomacy between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart to the multilateral diplomatic initiative tabled by Russia to get rid of one of the world’s worst chemical arsenals, diplomacy—whether traditional or unconventional—has won a better future. Diplomacy appears to be at its best form in recent history, particularly as it is furthering the détente between the United States and Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech declaring “peace is within reach” brought a huge round of applause from the United Nations General Assembly. Although the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu labeled his Iranian foe “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Rouhani seems to have both the intention and support from the Supreme Leader of Iran to come to an accord on the Iranian nuclear program. In an opinion article in The Guardian, the former President of the Islamic Republic Mohammad Khatami claims, “Explicit public support from the supreme leader of the Islamic republic provides Rouhani and his colleagues the necessary authority for a diplomatic resolution of a number of foreign policy issues with the west, not just the nuclear issue.” Evidently, Iran is thoughtfully exploring multi-channel diplomatic avenues to resolve the conflict over its nuclear program and earn western confidence.

Cultural diplomacy is also being used to bridge the gap between the United States and Iran. Attending a ceremony in New York to celebrate the return of an ancient Persian drinking vessel that was smuggled out of Iran, the Iranian Vice-President and head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Institution, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, met with officials from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art to discuss holding bilateral programs. Furthermore, he plans to bring the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra to Tehran next year.

In their diplomatic efforts, Iranian leaders are trying to reach out to mass audiences as demonstrated in Hassan Rouhani’s first interview on American soil with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. In her blog, the Iranian-born journalist writes, “I was struck by the fact that he agreed to say a sentence or two in English to reach the American people in their own language, saying he was bringing peace and friendship from Iran.” Prior to that interview, President Rouhani greeted the Jewish people on his Twitter account on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This unprecedented gesture from an Iranian leader struck so much awe that many first thought that it could not have come from his official account until the credibility of the account was verified. Far from endorsing his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks, Rouhani appears to be poised and focused on building a rapport with the Western world.

The American-educated Rouhani cannot be solely credited, however. In reality, diplomacy has been U.S. President Barack Obama’s consistent policy toward Iran. Obama has been able to contain Israel’s temptation to strike Iranian nuclear facilities unilaterally. Simultaneously, he has maintained a consistent policy on Iran that left open the possibility for dialogue. Over the years, he has strenuously reminded the public that it would take time for diplomacy to bear fruit over this seemingly intractable issue. Thanks to the President’s diplomatic wisdom in concert with timely Iranian prudence, Iran yet again returned to the negotiating table in Geneva last week. Representatives from P5+1 are expected to meet with the Iranian Foreign Minister again next month. In the meantime, they will review a fresh Iranian proposal on reaching a consensus over Iran’s uranium enrichment.

Taking the bitter past experiences into account, this negotiation process does not guarantee a happy ending. Chance of failure notwithstanding, the atmosphere this time seems to be favorable for paving the way for diplomacy because of Iran’s level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before. Diplomatically speaking, the ball is in Iran’s court now. Iran must exhibit its willingness and commitment to accelerate this process since the Islamic Republic has created the tense situation by concealing its ambiguous nuclear ambitions. If Iran immediately decreases its uranium enrichment below the threshold level of twenty percent and lets the IAEA observers in, it may be considered a stepping stone. At the same time, world leaders should be prepared to warrant some concessions in return. Partial lifting of some of the pernicious economic sanctions can buy Iran’s confidence.

Regardless of the mutual willingness to advance the peace talks, dissonance on the concessionary terms can end up in yet another stalemate. Nevertheless, diplomacy can bear fruit considering the demonstrated commitment from both sides.

About the Author

Arafat Kabir is an observer of national and global politics, foreign policy, and diplomacy. A native of Bangladesh, his work has appeared in the Diplomatic Courier, International Policy Digest, The Diplomat, and other publications. He is a member of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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