As our country continues to wonder how President-elect Barack Obama will turn his campaign promises in to political realities, there has been much speculation on who his advisers will be and how they will influence him in his decision-making.  The future of the U.S.’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Iran has been widely discussed.

On Friday November 14th a group of former diplomats, authors, and experts published a report advising President-elect Barack Obama to develop a new strategy for American relations with Iran.  The report, entitled “Joint Experts’ Statement on Iran”, notes that the “United States and Iran remain locked in a cycle of threats and defiance that destabilizes the Middle East and weakens U.S. national security.”  A closer look at the report and its policy prescriptions could give us a better idea of how President-Elect Obama can establish a more productive relationship with Iran.

The report calls for several key steps, including the development of a long-term strategy instead of calls for regime change, support for human rights through international means, and dialogue with Iran to discuss the future of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli peace process.  What I find so refreshing about this document is its emphasis on dialogue and  open exchange.  While some have claimed that dialogue is sign of weakness and have insisted that the U.S. remain ready to use force if necessary, the report reminds us that “long-standing diplomatic practice makes clear that talking directly to a foreign government in no way signals approval of the government, its policies or its actions.”  Even Israel’s top military intelligence office, Amos Yadlin, has stated, “Dialogue [with Iran] is not appeasement.

The fact is that our current policy of giving Iran the diplomatic silent treatment while issuing public threats is untenable.  Just as we could not afford to ignore Communist China in the 1970’s, we can no longer afford to pretend that the Iranian regime is a temporary phenomenon.   I encourage President-Elect Obama to  consider the advice of the Joint Experts’ Statement and to pursue a strategy of cautious but serious dialogue with Iran.  Iran is too much of a regional power in the Middle East for us to refuse to hear what they have to say.

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