When I visited Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 as a possible candidate to work for the foreign ministry, we discussed Iran-US relations and the role of the US on the nuclear file. At that time, he disagreed with my recommendation to bolster dialogue with the West – including the US – to resolve the nuclear dilemma. He saw enrichment as a technical, legal issue, a legitimate right for Iran under the Non Proliferation Treaty. I cautioned that for the West, it is neither a legal nor technical issue issue, but a political one, which requires direct talks with the US to be resolved.
Whether his recent comments are a matter of consensus within Iran, however, remains a big question.
Another question is whether President Obama will be able to orchestrate a “real engagement” with Iran – in contrast to his first term where he applied devastating unilateral and international sanctions, pressure, covert operations, and an intelligence war. Those measures only contributed to further tensions and a thickening of the wall of mistrust between the two nations – wiping any chance of rapprochement off the political map.
The Obama administration needs a new engagement policy with Iran that brings an end to 33 years of a failed “diplomacy plus pressure” policy dubbed as “dual-track.” The Iranian leadership values actions over words – particularly since Mr. Obama’s pleasantries have coincided with the most draconian sanctions and measures applied on Iran.
In the second term, it is time for the Obama administration to offer Iran a “grand deal,” where dual-track diplomacy is supported by constructive actions to prove his sincerity. Such a strategy needs to be drafted and implemented wisely, in both substance and style, to prevent previous failures and bring a real change to US-Iran relations. It also requires Iran to accommodate such policy by taking appropriate steps to facilitate the trend.