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Try a More Balanced Approach to Iran, Report Advises

WASHINGTON — If the term “track two” sounds like an announcement at Grand Central Terminal in New York, it has an altogether different meaning farther east at United Nations headquarters. Diplomats there suspect they’re hearing “track two” talks; that is, informal talks aimed at resolving problems, although the talks neither involve them nor any other official representatives of the nations caught in conflict.

Forty years ago, for example, senior members of the United Nations Association of the USA began such behind-the-scene talks with nongovernmental organization counterparts from the Soviet Union. As the cold war ended, a conflict began heating up over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Top UNA-USA members, some former American ambassadors, turned to meeting with important Iranians to foster rapport and dialogue, including convening in the Swedish countryside, far from the madding crowd.

Although the program was begun by UNA-USA and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2002, the activities went independent in 2009 and became known as the Iran Project. The latest meeting between the Americans involved and their Iranian counterparts took place on April 5-6, 2013.  More recently, William Luers, a former UNA-USA president and a United States ambassador, introduced a panel at the Wilson Center in Washington where a new report, “Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure With Diplomacy,” was released. It was drafted by Luers, the Iran Project director.

Isfahan market in Iran
A market in Isfahan, Iran. DAMON LYNCH

The lead panelist discussing the report was Thomas Pickering, who was the US ambassador to the UN from 1989 to 1992 and a former UNA-USA co-chairman. Pickering was accompanied by Jim Walsh, a researcher in the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As the third of such reports, this one differs from the others by offering advice and policy recommendations. It calls on Washington to rebalance its policy toward Iran by strengthening its diplomatic negotiations to build on the opportunities already created by other pressures it has exerted.

The report says early on, for example, that “the United States should now dedicate as much energy and creativity to negotiating directly with Iran as it has to assembling a broad international coalition to pressure and isolate Iran.”

It also maintains that “only by taking such a rebalanced approach might the United States achieve its objectives with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. Progress on the nuclear issues could lead to a broader dialogue with Iran that advances other U.S. interests and goals in the Middle East.”

As Pickering explained in his opening remarks, the report has a single, central theme: it is time for the Obama administration to make an investment in the negotiating process equal to what it has invested in sanctions and the potential use of military force.

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In short, Pickering said that the president must state, “I want a deal,” and instruct his people to get a deal. Pickering added that the US has to disabuse Iran of its belief that the one goal that America seeks is regime change. The counterpart to that is the belief in the US that Iran’s only goal is to make a nuclear weapon. Instead, a new relationship between the two countries must be built on an understanding that neither of those beliefs is true.

The 84-page report gained bipartisan support from 35 former diplomats, legislators and military officers — from Zbigniew Brezezinski, the national security adviser for Jimmy Carter, to Timothy Wirth, most recently the president of the United Nations Foundation.

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Tino Calabia began his humanitarian work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s and then ran a Bronx antipoverty agency and wrote numerous federal studies ranging from the rights of female offenders to racial discrimination on college campuses. He has served on national Asian American boards and organized seminars in former Eastern-bloc countries for exchange students he mentored while they lived in the United States.

Calabia has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, attended the University of Munich on a foreign-exchange fellowship and has a master's degree in English and American literature from Columbia University. He lives in the Washington area with his wife, Dawn Calabia, who is an honorary adviser to Refugees International.

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