Live Blogging the CNAS Iran Panel

I’m attempting to live-blog the Iran panel at the Center for a New American Security’s “Pivot Point” conference in Washington. We’ll see how this goes . . .

Panelists are Nicholas Burns, James Miller, Dennis Ross, Suzanne Maloney, James Dobbins.

Ambassador Burns sets the theme of the discussion: Should the next president continue the current U.S. policy of sanctions to try to persuade Iran to abandon its program, and of conditioning talks on that goal, or should he drop many of the preconditions for diplomacy, as a new CNAS report suggests?

Miller begins to Summarize the CNAS report. Other panelists Amb. Ross, Maloney (Brookings) and Dobbins (RAND) also contributed to the report.

He wants to make the case for “game-changing diplomacy.” Notes he didn’t say “game-ending.”

Goal to “not have one centrifuge spinning” is a great goal, but not realistic. Neither carrots or sticks are big enough.

Military strikes might backfire by creating Iranian public support (which currently doesn’t exist) for a nuclear program.

In response, Iran could escalate support of Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. Many in U.S. military are thus skeptical. If we were in for a dime, we would be in for a dollar. If military strikes, we’d have to be prepared for a major war . . .

Elements of “game changing diplomacy”:

1. U.S. should stop sabre-rattling. Less “howling like a wolf.”
2. Accept that Iran has a right to enrich uranium, but insist on IAEA inspections while at the same time encouraging total abandonment.
3. Insist on ceasing cooperation with our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
4. Establish bilateral relations with Iran.
5. If Iran reneges, all bets are off; get Russia and China agreement on this.
6. Condition incentives on Iranian behavior.

Key enablers for this “game-changing” diplomacy:

1. Getting international support before proposing anything to Iranians. Will be difficult negotiations, no question.
2. Build support within U.S. Will also be challening b/c of egregious Iranian statements.
3. Develop leverage. Diplomacy will do that by creating internal and international pressure.
4. Deterrence and containment will remain important. Be prepared to ramp up sanctions, as well as be prepared to use last resort of military force.

Amb. Dennis Ross is up next.

Iran seems to be making significant technological progress on enrichment. Iran is “becoming a nuclear power.” So, the current path isn’t working.

He doesn’t think discussion on deterrence and containment have gone far enough. Tendency to idealize the nature of the deterrence of the relationship with the U.S.S.R. We were closer to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis than we realized at the time.

This even when we had means of communicating, very clear red lines, and other side understood those. We don’t have that with Iran today. They don’t have that with Israel.

Not saying deterrence and containment can’t work. But we have to think more about how to do it, b/c it’s not a given.

We have allowed the Iranians over time to create the appearance that their are rogue elements that are not controlled by the regime. We need to think about how to remove that appearance.

Another danger: Saudis going nuclear. They don’t have an infrastructure, but they have a hell of a lot of money.

Israel-Palestine will be many times more difficult if Iran had nuclear weapons.

So we don’t want an outcome where we have to use force, and we don’t want to have an outcome where they have nuclear weapons and have to rely on deterrence and containment.

So we need a new approach. We’ve had a weak carrot and weak stick approach. We need a strong carrot and strong stick approach.

This is a “hybrid option.” We can’t produce strong sticks by themselves, and they wouldn’t have the desired effect. Also, there’s no combination of carrots that are worth enough to them as having a nuclear program. So both are essential.

We must use our willingness to talk to persuade the Europeans, Russians and Chinese to get on board with stronger sticks.

Tell Europe we’re going to talk if they actually “cut the economic lifeline.” EU is still “providing billions of euros” of investment in Iran . . .

Risk of using force will also concentrate the European mind. Now this is coming from the Israelis. Israelis have said if Iranians continue, they will use force. Already Europeans are somewhat more attentive as a result of these recent Israeli statements. But “I suspect that has a short shelflife.”

New president will be faced with this right away. McCain or Obama team should, during transition, request Bush approval to begin talks with Europeans, Chinese, Russians, etc. on this. This is out of the ordinary, but this is a dangerous problem.

Now Suzanne Maloney:

Reason engagement did not work for 25 years with Iran was not b/c of U.S. unwillingness to talk, but b/c Iran was not ready. Now Iran is ready and U.S. administration is not.

Began in 2003 . . . 2006 Ayatollah came out publicly to endorse official dialogue with Washington. This was unprecedented.

She has looked at historical U.S.-Islamic Republic negotiations. Also successful negotiations with Iran and other countries, for example with Saudis.

When we look at track record, we learn:

-Iranian foreign policy can change, though negotiations were quite protracted.
-Key to success of raprochement was that both sides were willing to suggest ambiguity in definition of relationship for face-saving purposes. No side anticipated a cure-all, but simply more constructive process. It’s a “weigh station between process and goodwill.”

Only viable pathway will have to deal with Ahmadinejad and Khomeini. Rafsanjani no longer has sway.

CNAS recommendations will set us up for success. But we have to go into it recognizing that it will be incredibly difficult to deal with current leadership.

Now Dobbins . . .

What is the utility of preemption against this particular adversary? Depends on where you put them on the spectrum of possible threats. Is it Grenada or the Soviet Union?

I would argue that while it’s not at the Soviet Union end, neither is it Grenada. It could do us great harm, and we can’t overrun them.

My solution for dealing with Iran: Deal with Iran (laughter)

Would yield better information, more options, better decisions in the end.

Now questions:

First question, from U.S. Naval Academy person: Would changing our relationship w/Israel be a carrot for Iran?

Mario Loyola, Senate Republican Policy Cmmte: Conservatives are worried about tendency to divorce diplomatic dimension from military option. Military option enables diplomatic success. We stack the success against military option by only discussing strikes on nuclear facilities. Many military options short of that. . . . So questions: Are we willing to make the price prohibitive for Iran, b/c if we’re not, we’re starting from a very weak condition. . . .

Jessica McDonald. GWU Grad Student: Fuel bank Iran. Is that a possible compromise that is politically viable?

Miller: Internationally administered enrichment center on Iranian soil or some other provision of uranium for civil purposes are both preferable to Iran getting weapons.

On diplomacy question: Best way to get Iranian population to support leadership is to emphasize military solution. In near term, we have to pull back threat.

Burns: Should the next president keep the threat of force on the table? Should it be part of our strategy?

Ross: Mistake to deny yourself any of those tools. I wouldn’t take it off the table, but emphasize during the diplomatic a message of dissuasion.

On Israeli question: Changing our relationship with Israel would not be a carrot for Iran b/c “they prefer Israel not to be there.”

Maloney: the mllitary option will be there whether or not we formally proffer it. We fail to understand how detrimental military threat has been to our ability to get Iran to negotiate. They are a “very defensive” regime.

Dobbins: I take issue w/idea that use of force, explicit or implicit, is a necessary part of diplomacy. In my 40 years of experience, most diplomacy was not conducted against the background of a threat of force, and when there was, it usually failed. And when that happened, we had to use the force, or the bluff was called.

We never under any circumstances with Soviet Union threatened to use force unless in response to overt aggression against us. . . . I simply reject the thesis that an implicit threat of force is necessary for successful diplomacy. It exists existentially whether you continue to harp on it or not, so put it in a drawer for a while and get busy with the job of diplomacy.


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