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Ahmadinejad's Trip and a Possible Diplomatic Opening

by M. SADRA in New York

19 Sep 2011 21:24Comments
N1010201-1744336.jpgElectoral concerns should not interfere with opportunity for progress on nuclear issue.

[ opinion ] The U.N. General Assembly starts today and as expected, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made his seventh trip to New York to address the delegates. Already, though, this trip seems different. Facing increased difficulties back home, Ahmadinejad seems to have brought with him a different, more conciliatory tone. Importantly, if this different approach presages an attempt to strike a deal, is there anyone in the United States who is ready to listen?

Ahmadinejad set the stage by repeatedly proclaiming in his September 13 interview with the Washington Post that if the West provides Iran with fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, that Iran would cease production of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Of course, the devil is in the details. However, this is a major concession long sought by the United States. It seems that the path is cleared for a serious negotiation with Iran on a variety of issues, including the previous non-starter nuclear program.

Nevertheless, with U.S. President Barack Obama in full reelection mode, reaching any deal is difficult to imagine. The Republican Party would skewer Obama for being soft on Iran, and argue that it is further evidence that he is no friend of Israel. Indeed, Texas Governor Rick Perry has advocated a military "solution" for Iran, while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has called the Islamic Republic a "genocidal" and "suicidal" nation. It's hard to imagine that Representative Michelle Bachmann, who strongly supports the Mojahedin-e Khalgh, would not use White House diplomacy with Iran as a spearhead. Regrettably, diplomacy is being held hostage to the election cycle.

And it wouldn't be the first time that a presidential campaign derailed a potential reconciliation between the two countries. After Obama won office, the State Department advised him to wait until after the Iran presidential election to attempt engagement. The disputed June 2009 vote and subsequent protests effectively further delayed any possibility of talks. To now reject any overture from Iran because of the current presidential campaign would be a mistake. After the 2012 U.S. elections, Iran faces a presidential election in 2013 that would surely politicize any potential discussions with the United States.

Both countries need to find a way to break the cycle in which relatively petty domestic politics are allowed to shape fundamental foreign policy. If President Ahmadinejad comes to New York with a different message, the White House should not greet it with the cynicism with which previous outreach efforts by Iran were met under the Bush administration.

M. Sadra is the pseudonym of a U.S.-based attorney who is a specialist in U.S. export laws regarding Iran. Photo: Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's long-serving former foreign minister and now a special advisor to the Supreme Leader on foreign affairs, is seen shaking hands with Ahmadinejad. Velayati has been increasingly photographed at Ahmadinejad's side, where his controversial aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, usually appeared.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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