Just Talking to Iran Won’t Do It

Our new Op Ed in Reuters, “The U.S. Needs a Completely Different Approach to Iran,” opens with a warning to our fellow Americans:

“As Washington and its great power partners prepare for more nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration and policy elites across the political spectrum talk as if America is basically in control of the situation.  Sanctions, we are told, are inflicting ever-rising hardship on Iran’s economy.  Either Tehran will surrender to U.S. demands that it stop enriching uranium or, at some point, the American military will destroy Iranian nuclear installations.

This is a dangerous delusion, grounded in persistent American illusions about Middle Eastern reality.  Because of failed wars-cum-occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan; a war on terror that has turned Muslim societies ever more firmly against U.S. policy; and de facto support for open-ended Israeli occupation of Arab populations, America’s position in the region is in free fall.  Increasingly mobilized publics will not tolerate continuation of such policies.  If, in this climate, the United States launches another war to disarm yet another Middle Eastern country of weapons of mass destruction it does not have, the blowback against American interests will be disastrous.  Nonetheless, that is where our current strategy—negotiating on terms that could not possibly interest Iran while escalating covert operations, cyber-attacks, and economic warfare against it—leads.”

Against this, we argue that,“For its own interests, Washington must take a fundamentally different approach.  President Obama needs to realign U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as thoroughly as President Nixon realigned relations with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s.”  In this regard, we note,

“Simply ‘talking’ to Iran will not accomplish this.  Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution has talked to Tehran, usually to ask its help on particular U.S. concerns…In all of these episodes, Washington got most of what it specifically asked for.  But, each time, Washington pocketed Tehran’s cooperation, terminated dialogue, and used the purported ‘failure’ of diplomacy to raise tensions, impose more sanctions, and come ever closer to confrontation.”

Instead of persisting this dangerously foolhardy approach, the United States needs to take a different path, by

“acknowledging the Islamic Republic as a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests—and as a rising regional power unwilling to subordinate its foreign policy to Washington (as, for example, Egypt did under Sadat and Mubarak).  No American president since the Iranian Revolution—not even Barack Obama—has been willing to deal with the Islamic Republic in this way.  Yet we return from our latest visit to Iran convinced this is the only way diplomacy can succeed

Ayatollah Khamenei and the three Iranian presidents elected over the course of Khamenei’s 22-year tenure as Supreme Leader have all said that they are open to better relations with America—but only on the basis of mutual respect, equality, and American acceptance of the Islamic Republic.  Today, engaging Iran on this basis is Obama’s single biggest foreign policy challenge.  It’s also the only way for him to rescue America’s position in the Middle East and avert strategic catastrophe in his second term.”

We encourage you to read our Op Ed in its entirety.  We welcome your comments about it on this site and also encourage you to post whatever comments you might have on the Reuters page for our Op Ed.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett



44 Responses to “Just Talking to Iran Won’t Do It”

  1. Sakineh Bagoom says:

    And Suzanne Maloney adds this.

    You’ll be disappointed by statements like this:
    ” Iran’s determined quest to create an expansive nuclear infrastructure and the country’s persistent violations of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have generated profound uncertainties for regional security and the future of the nonproliferation regime”

    But heartened by:
    “Unfortunately, national security is not always wholly consistent with moral righteousness. Diplomacy cannot be predicated on an adversary’s virtue, but must be grounded in a clear-eyed pursuit of national interest.”

    I wouldn’t call it a realist, but overall not a bad prescription. I just don’t see how US can remove any sanctions that require congress to certify IRI before removal.

  2. Sineva says:

    Yes,sadly the us has done an excellent job of sanctioning itself into a corner,it cannot say yes to a deal nor can it say yes to war either,its only option is the maintenance of an increasingly very shaky status quo,it reminds me of people trying to rearrange the deck chairs as the boat sinks

  3. Ataune says:

    What the Leveretts are saying here is the voice of reason and realism and should be heralded as such in the US political circles. Iran bashing and fear mongering cannot be sustained for the US, now and here. Maybe it was doable 15 years ago but, today, war will be a catastrophy and status-quo a sure way to lose more and more influence.

  4. BiBiJon says:

    “I just don’t see how US can remove any sanctions that require congress to certify IRI before removal.”

    Indeed, an interesting reversal of roles has happened between the congress and the white house.

    Presidents were supposed to be in charge of foreign policy. When Obama did not veto sanctions legislation, he in effect surrendered his prerogative to Congress.

    When Congress authorized Bush to wage war on Iraq whenever he felt like it, congress officially surrendered its war-making powers.


  5. ToivoS says:

    I tried posting a comment at the Reuters site. When I clicked the dialogue box, the screen darkened, a blank window opened and my cursor read ‘busy’. This lasted about 5 minutes without anything else happening. Does anyone know how to get around this?

  6. Richard Steven Hack says:

    ToivoS: When I posted a comment there, a blank window opened. I enabled the reuters media site in addition to reuters.com itself under NoScript and reloaded the page. The blank screen turned into a screen listing ways to log in to Reuters using social media sites. That’s probably what you saw. Something on your system is blocking the JavaScript from running, either your browser settings or your antimalware system.

    Once I logged in via Facebook, I was able to post a comment.

    Comments have to be approved so you won’t see the comment appear immediately.

  7. James Canning says:

    We should bear in mind that Ali Akbar Salehi once again recently, made clear Iran is willing to stop enriching to 20%.

  8. James Canning says:

    John Kerry may have to attempt to make a partial deal, behind the scenes. US Congress virtually under the control of Aipac and other extremist “pro-Israel” groups.

  9. James Canning says:


    “The West” does not want a war with Iran. Bibi Netanyahu, on the other hand, apparently would welcome war between “the West” and Iran. Many neocon warmongers in the US and elsehwhere would also welcome such a war.

    Obviously, it makes sense for Iran not to make it easier for Iran’s enemies to set up a war.

  10. fyi says:


    The nuclear doctrine of the Russian Federation:


  11. fyi says:


    I think it was in 2007 or 2008 when the Iranian leaders finally concluded that their differences with US cannot be resolved.

    From then on their major effort has gone into minimizing damage to Iran.

  12. Sineva says:

    James Canning says:
    February 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm
    As I`ve said previously if they were determined to start a war they would find an excuse just as they did in iraq,libya,yugoslavia,grenada,panama..etc,etc no amount of appeasement on irans part short of outright surrender would change that,personally I think iran has played its political and military cards skilfully avoiding needless provocations/antagonisms while also demonstrating its strength both military and political.For the west and its stooges there are no good options indeed the strategy seems to be maintain the status quo and hope for a miracle of some sort thus we see the support of the various groups in syria and the sunni vs shia option,an act of stupid desperation,personally I don`t think time is on the wests side

  13. masoud says:

    When they said F-5 type plane, I was prepared for the Saeqeh++,

    It seems the only thing this specimen has in common with that model is the twin tails, which ironically enough, isn’t an F-5 feature to begin with.

  14. Richard Steven Hack says:

    Israel targeted multiple targets in recent attack on Syria, U.S. intelligence official tells Time
    American official says White House gave Israel ‘green light’ to carry out more such attacks in the future.

    In short, the game plan appears to have changed slightly. Obama is clearly now using Israel as the stalking horse to get the US and NATO to attack Syria.

    However, if Assad does not allow himself to be drawn in by this, this plan may fail just as the ones that entailed the insurgents shooting mortars into Turkey and Israel failed last year.

  15. Richard Steven Hack says:

    Israeli warplanes reportedly conduct ‘mock raids’ over Lebanon

    Obviously planning for the upcoming attack on Hizballah. These weren’t the usual “fly overs” and reconnaissance flights – although those, too, have increased in recent days. Israel is doing them with impunity despite complaints from the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon.

  16. Richard Steven Hack says:

    Hezbollah condemns Israel’s raid on Syria


    In Israel, lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi who is close to hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of confirming Israel’s involvement in the strike.

    But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future. He said pinpoint strikes are not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria.

    “Israel’s preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems,” Hanegbi said. “But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to,” he added.

    He was referring to NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya that helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

    “Even if there are reports about pinpoint operations, these are not significant solutions to the threat itself because we are talking about very substantial capabilities that could reach Hezbollah,” he added.

    End Quote

    In short, Israel intends to get the US and NATO to attack Syria – and if the West doesn’t, Israel will. Which will almost certainly drag in the US and NATO, just as an Israeli attack on Iran would almost certainly drag in the US.

  17. Karl... says:

    Seeing the hearing on Hagel hearing proved many things.

    1.Hagel is politically corrupt, lying and didnt say what he have said earlier about Iran and Israel, instead saying exactly what the lobby figures wanted to hear to get him approved.
    2. Hagel is a incredibly bad speaker


  18. Sayyid says:

    What I think is clear is that this is not about US (or Western) misunderstandings of the nature of the Iranian programme. It’s about how it hurts “Western” pride to have a Muslim country showing the finger at their aggressive policies. Well, deal with it, I’d say. Iran is here to stay, and it’s only getting stronger.

    In other words, there is a high-school mentality behind what’s going on in Washington. Not mature politics.

  19. ExposingNeoConWarmongeringStooges says:

    Looks like Iran just humiliated the US/EU/Canada etc again, and did it in fine style. Those sanctions sure are doing a good job of helping Iran to design more advanced weapons systems.

    Video 1


    Video 2


  20. Bussed-in Basiji says:

    OMG, first the monkey in space…and now this!

    Notice the how Aljazeera losers put the headline in quotation marks as if there is doubt and then use an old archive photo of a different model versus how RT headlines it and includes a video.

    Iran rolls out bold design for homemade fighter jets(VIDEO)

    Iran unveils ‘domestically-built fighter jet’

  21. Fiorangela says:

    Karl… says:
    February 2, 2013 at 5:27 am

    “Seeing the hearing on Hagel hearing proved many things. . . .

    2. Hagel is a incredibly bad speaker”
    = = =
    from Wikipedia:
    “He graduated from St. Bonaventure High School (now Scotus Central Catholic High School) in Columbus, Nebraska, in 1964, the Brown Institute for Radio and Television in 1966, and he earned a BA degree in History from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971.[3][6]

    After returning from Vietnam, he worked as a radio newscaster and talk show host in Omaha from 1969 to 1971[10] while finishing college on VA assistance under the GI Bill.[11]”

  22. Nasser says:


    Do you know what kind of power plant that planes uses? I was very disappointed by the last Kish Air Show where Iran promised to unveil home made turbo fan engines.

  23. James Canning says:


    Neocon warmongers wanted Hagel to say the “surge” in Iraq was a good thing and that Hagel was wrong to have opposed it. Hagel refused.

    In fact, the “surge” was a great blunder, in my view. And, perhaps, in Hagel’s view too.

  24. James Canning says:


    You apparently think Ali Akbar Salehi would be “appeasing” the Six Powers if he helps to arrange for Iran to stop enriching to 20%?

  25. James Canning says:


    You claim Iran’s strategy since 2007-08 has been to minimise the damage caused by its inability to make a deal with the West (or P5+1). This is the reason, in your view, that Iran stepped up enrichment to 20%?

  26. fyi says:

    Nasser says:

    February 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    The more relevant question is how many planes can the Iranians field; 20 or 200?

    Sufficient quantitative change will result in qualitative change.

  27. James Canning says:

    Joe Biden is in Munich to meet with Sergei Lavrov. Obama wants to reduce the pile of nukes still held by the US and Russia. Ben Rhodes says Biden will try to get Russia to say Bashar al-Assad must leave power in Syria. A mistaken approach, in my view.

  28. fyi says:

    James Canning says:

    February 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    The over-arching Iranian strategy is to undermine the emergence of a global hegemon; favoring a multi-polar world.

    They view the actions of the United States against them as having devolved power from US to others – such as India – thus helping their strategic objective.

    In 2007, Axis Powers as well as P5+1 – inspite of having the political cover of the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran – elected to escalate strategically against Iran.

    In 2010, the Axis Powers as well as P5+1 escalated yet again by refusing to take Iran’s “Yes” for an answer.

    And late in 2010, the Axis Powers threatened Iranians with total economic warfare – which they subsequently put into operation in 2011 (when Iranian leaders stated that they will not surrender.)

    20% issue is irrelevant to all of this – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine is what is relevant.

    In the absence of the 20% issue, Arak Heavy Water Reactor’s commissioning would have been used for waging economic war against Iran – for plutonium-based weapons.

    That is, Axis Powers would have found one excuse or another to initiate their economic war against Iran – something that they had been planning since 2009 (if public utterances of their politicians can be believed.)

    The strategic esclations of P5+1 and Axis States are not reversible in the foreseeable future.

    Furthermore, with constant attacks against Shia in Pakistan there is snow-ball’s chance in Hell of Iran accepting any limitations whatsoever on its nuclear industries.

    The ultimate aim of Axis Powers and P5+1 is a de-nuclearized Iranian state which, from my point of view, can be subject to annihilation.

    Well, that aim cannot be reached – not by US not by EU, not by Russia, not by China, and not by India.

    [War with Iran – causing 300,000 dead Iranians – will not de-nuclearize Iran.]

    Axis Powers and P5+1 had 2 choices – accept enhanced Iranian power or try to destroy it.

    They decided to destroy it.

    That is all.

  29. Nasser says:


    I agree. But to answer your question would require to answer mine first.

  30. Nasser says:

    fyi says:

    “The ultimate aim of Axis Powers and P5+1 is a de-nuclearized Iranian state which, from my point of view, can be subject to annihilation …

    Axis Powers and P5+1 had 2 choices – accept enhanced Iranian power or try to destroy it.

    They decided to destroy it.”

    – I agree fully with this view. I have said for some time that regime change is not their ultimate objective. They want to permanently neuter Iran.

    They want something like this to happen to Iran: http://www.mbc.edu/faculty/gbowen/MapAlternativeMiddleEast.htm

    This is exactly why not having nuclear weapons would be strategic suicide for Iran. That is why the nuclear issue is not a matter of vanity or national pride as Mr. Hack alleges, but of national survival!

  31. Sakineh Bagoom says:

    BiBiJon says: February 1, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    While I agree on the role reversal of executive and legislative branches regarding foreign policy and war declaration, I disagree that Obama could have, even if he wanted to, vetoed any of the sanctions bills that reached his desk. When a bill with 100 signatures (100-0 in a system so broken that no one has the courage to defy the powers-that-be and vote against a sanctions bill – case and point all the flack that Hagel got for voting no) reaches his desk, he realizes that there are enough votes to override a veto and is not going waste any political capital. He is going to save face and go along. Executive orders, however, are a tool that he could have used more sparingly, but had to show his anti-Iran bona fides and went along on that as well. So, executive orders yes. Vetoes no.
    So, not quite quid pro quo. Just pragmatism I guess.

  32. Fiorangela says:

    ExposingNeoConWarmongeringStooges says:
    February 2, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Congratulations, I guess.

    For the last 100 years the people of the US have relied on automobiles driving on roads to travel from place to place. The auto industry was the backbone of the American economy for most of those years. Other countries — Japan, Germany, Korea — built better cars, which now dominate the field.

    But still, people get from place to place in automobiles that are earth-bound; little more than motorized donkey karts.

    Who will cross a drone with a Volkswagen and contend with Icarus for the freedom of the skies? I imagine landing my PD (Personal Drone) on the roof of my house, next to the roof garden where my daily vegetables thrive. I connect its charger to batteries that have stored the day’s sunshine from photovoltaic windows http://techland.time.com/2012/07/24/windows-that-generate-electricity-from-invisible-light-is-this-the-future-or-what/ ; by morning, it’s charged up, ready to strap onto my shoulders and fly me to the mall. I can fold it to the size of a large umbrella and carry it in a backpack, or store it in a locker, or on a hanger array on the exterior of the buildings I will visit — or the office complex where I work.

    America has been stuck looking backward for 200 years. We are running out of places to store our neurotic yearnings for a fantasized past. Iran has shown the way nonviolently to resist the backwardness of the West. It’s reward should be dominance over the next giant technological leap forward.

  33. Richard Steven Hack says:

    Nasser: Well, the Iranian leadership does not agree with you. They are against having nuclear weapons and that attitude will remain until at least Khamenei goes and probably beyond.

    Have a nice day.

  34. Sineva says:

    James Canning says:
    February 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    That would of course depend entirely on what sort of deal is to be had,so far the west has given no sign that it is prepared to accept irans right to the fuel cycle,its demand is still zero enrichment as you well know,perhaps this round might be different but personally I think the chances are slim because for the west saying yes to any deal with iran would be seen as a defeat and thats exactly what it would be a defeat for the western backed status quo

  35. Kathleen says:

    Accept “Iran’s right to enrich” With Hillary Clinton on the Presidential horizon that does not look likely. She is about as an aggressive warmonger as Cheney/Wolfowitz/ Feith. Biden is a much better bet.

  36. James Canning says:


    Where do you get the idea “the West” would see it as a “defeat”, if a deal between the P5+1 is achieved? Makes zero sense.

    Neocon weamongers, and other fanatical “supporters” of Israel, would argue “the West” was defeated, if Iranian enrichment to 5% were agreed. But this is rubbish.

  37. James Canning says:


    I very much agree that Joe Biden is to be preferred over Hillary Clinton, by those favoring a sensible American forign policy in the Middle East.

    Has Clinton conceded in any way that Biden was correct to oppose the “surge” in Aghanistan?

  38. James Canning says:


    You appear to have difficulty grasping the fact the primary issue in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, is whether a deal can be made allowing Iran to enrich to 5%.
    Enriching to 20% is not on the table.

    Iranian enrichment to 90% would guarantee a blockade.

  39. James Canning says:

    Did anyone watch the McLaughlin Group (PBS TV in US) this week? Mort Zuckerman, a good friend of Bibi Netanyahu, tried to argue it was offensive to use the term “Jewish lobby”, or to argue that the Israel lobby damaged the US in any way.

  40. Sineva says:

    James Canning says:
    February 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm
    Then why have they not said yes,james??
    why have they kept going with sanctions,containment and the status quo?

  41. Sakineh Bagoom says:

    Why Is the United States Subsidizing Iran? (read: how I love to hate Iran – or –how my bosses pay me (FREDERICK STARR) for fake outrage in a column which is not reality based and bashes Iran)