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To avoid war with Iran, Obama must change his tone and strike a deal

Israel warns time is running out to stop Iran's nuclear program. If the US wants to avoid military strikes on Iran, it must stop talking out of both sides of its mouth – offering carrots and sticks. As new talks are planned, its policy must instead acknowledge Iran's culture and political realities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Obama speaks during their meeting March 5 at the White House in Washington. Tensions between Israel and Iran have been escalating over Iran's refusal to halt its nuclear program. These op-ed contributors argue for a shift in US policy away from 'carrot and stick' to diplomacy that satisfies both American and Iranian concerns.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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If the US wants to avoid military strikes on Iran and still wants a diplomatic settlement for the nuclear dispute with the Islamic Republic, Washington must stop talking out of both sides of its mouth. 

As world powers move toward new talks with Iran, the US must abandon its delusion that the dual track approach – offering simultaneous carrots and sticks – will work with Tehran. It must instead adopt a more pragmatic approach that is sensitive to both the Iranian cultural sentiments and political realities. In particular, the US must appreciate the fact that in Iran, right or wrong, national pride is more important than national interest.

Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have frequently condemned the tone of American officials as disrespectful and derogatory. They are particularly annoyed by the terms “carrot and stick” as they are applied to the “donkey” in Iran. This sense of national pride is reinforced by the Iranian Islamic culture of resistance to outside pressure.

President Obama’s televised message to Iran in 2009 called for a “new beginning,” and such a fresh start could break the deadlock if it were not accompanied by simultaneous accusations of “terror.” Tehran viewed the message as displaying the carrot and stick policy. The Supreme Leader Khamanei immediately attacked Mr. Obama saying, “It is not understandable that Obama congratulates the Iranian new year, but, at the same time, accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and efforts to gain access to nuclear weapons.” Mr. Khamanei has reminded the West, that Iran “hates threat and enticement.”


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