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Insults, regime-change policy won't work

Five points to successfully reduce US-Iran tensions

With the fate of the Iran nuclear deal at stake, US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran, likely today.

Many believe he will de-certify the international deal, and not all in his administration seem to agree with his harder-line approach to Iran.

Notwithstanding former president Barack Obama's administration's nuclear negotiations, every US administration since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed in its declared objective to contain Iran.

If Mr Trump wishes to remove anxiety over US-Iran tensions, he should pay attention to these five points in formulating his Iran policy.

First, US officials need to stop speaking about Iran threateningly and insultingly.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told me that Mr Trump's speech to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last month was the "most insulting speech of any American president towards Iran since the revolution" and that it "made any potential for dialogue with the US meaningless".

Second, US regime-change policies have been self-defeating. The principal reason for lasting Iranian distrust of the US has been policies aimed at undermining and overturning the Iranian political system.

Mr Obama told the UN that "we are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy".

The respectful letters exchanged between him and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei helped set the process to reach the July 2015 nuclear deal.

This would not happen today even if Mr Trump makes a similar overture, as the key to successful negotiations with Iran is to first drop regime-change policies.

Third, since the 1953 US-led coup that overthrew democratically-elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iranians have resented US interference in Iran.

The political landscape of conservatives, moderates and reformists in Iran is in many ways similar to the competition between US Democrats and Republicans, so negotiations must be carried out in a way that respects Iran's political make-up.

Fourth, the Trump administration needs to accept that Iran, as a large country with immense natural resources and an educated population, has legitimate security concerns and interests in its neighbourhood.

If the US wants to avoid scenarios where regional states aggressively compete for power, it must encourage the creation of a regional security system involving the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries along with Iraq and Iran.

Finally, the record shows that "dual track" policies of pressure and diplomacy will fail.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former secretary of state John Kerry highlighted how by the time he entered into negotiations with Iran, after years of sanctions, Iran had "mastered the nuclear fuel cycle".

 

"Iran was already a nuclear-threshold state", he wrote

The lesson here is that if push comes to shove, Tehran will develop its own bargaining chips - not capitulate in the face of whatever threats are made by Mr Trump. - REUTERS

The writer is a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University and a former head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran's National Security Council.

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