Lack of Engagement with Iran Threatens U.S. National Interests in Critical Region of the World, Concludes Council-Sponsored Task Force
Policy Based on Regime Change Not Likely to Succeed; New U.S.
July 19, 2004 - The lack of sustained engagement with Iran
harms American interests, and direct dialogue with Tehran on
specific areas of mutual concern should be pursued, concludes a
Council-sponsored Independent Task Force,
Iran: Time for a New Approach. "The Islamic
Republic appears to be solidly entrenched and the country is not on
the brink of revolutionary upheaval," says the Task Force.
"Those forces that are committed to preserving Iran's
current system remain firmly in control and represent the
country's only authoritative interlocutors. The urgency of
the concerns surrounding [Iran's] policies mandates the
United States to deal with the current regime rather than wait for
it to fall."
Co-chaired by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew
Brzezinski and former Director of Central Intelligence
Robert M. Gates, and directed by Suzanne Maloney, the
Task Force includes experts with a wide range of views and
The Task Force acknowledges that past efforts to engage
Iran's Islamic regime have failed, and that even a discerning
policy may still be rebuffed by the regime's obstinacy.
However, two recent developments highlight the most urgent
priorities for U.S. policy toward Iran. The ongoing investigation
of the International Atomic Energy Agency into Iran's nuclear
program and the evolving situations in Iraq and Afghanistan
underscore the vital relevance of Iran for U.S. policy.
The Task Force concludes Iran is experiencing a gradual process
of internal change. It argues this process will eventually produce
a government more responsive toward its citizenry's wishes
and more responsible in its international approach. In the
meantime, the urgency of U.S. concerns about Iran and the region
mandate that the United States deal with the current regime rather
than waiting it out.
The Task Force advocates a "compartmentalized"
process of dialogue, confidence building, and incremental
engagement. Specifically the Task Force concludes that it "is
in the interests of the United States to engage selectively with
Iran to promote regional stability, dissuade Iran from pursuing
nuclear weapons, preserve reliable energy supplies, reduce the
threat of terror, and address the "democracy deficit"
that pervades the Middle East as a whole."
The Task Force highlights the following different approaches to
- Selective political engagement. The United States should
not defer a political dialogue with Iran until deep differences
over its nuclear ambitions and involvement in regional conflicts
have been resolved. "Just as the United States has a
constructive relationship with China (and earlier did so with the
Soviet Union) while strongly opposing certain aspects of its
internal and international policies, Washington should approach
Iran with a readiness to explore areas of common interests while
continuing to contest objectionable policy."
- Incremental progress vs. 'grand bargain.'
"A 'grand bargain' that would settle
comprehensively the outstanding conflicts between Iran and the
United States is not a realistic goal, and pursuing such an outcome
would be unlikely to produce near-term progress on
Washington's central interests." Instead, the Task
Force recommends "selectively engaging Iran on issues where
U.S. and Iranian interests converge."
- Fewer sticks, more carrots. "U.S. reliance on
comprehensive unilateral sanctions has not succeeded in its stated
objective to alter Iranian conduct and has deprived Washington of
greater leverage vis-à-vis the Iranian government apart from
the threat of force." Given the increasingly important role
of economic interests in shaping Iran's policies at home and
abroad, "the prospect of commercial relations with the United
States could be a powerful tool in Washington's
- Promote democracy, not regime change. "The United
States should advocate democracy in Iran without relying on the
rhetoric of regime change, as that would be likely to rouse
nationalist sentiments in defense of the current regime even among
those who currently oppose it." The United States should
focus instead on promoting political evolution that would lead to
stronger democratic institutions internally and enhanced diplomatic
and economic relations abroad.
Among the Task Force's recommendations for U.S. policy
- Offer Iran a direct dialogue on specific issues of regional
stabilization to "encourage constructive Iranian involvement
in the process of consolidating authority within the central
governments of both Iraq and Afghanistan and in rebuilding their
economies." A basic statement of principles along the lines
of the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué signed by the United States
and China could be developed to outline the parameters for
- Press Iran to clarify the status of al-Qaeda operatives
detained by Tehran and "make clear that a security dialogue
will be conditional on assurances that [Iran] is not facilitating
violence against the new Iraqi and Afghan governments or the
coalition forces that are assisting them." At the same time,
Washington should work with the interim government of Iraq to
conclusively disband the Iraq-based Mojahideen-e-Khalq, the largest
and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of
- Together with its European allies and Russia, implement a more
focused strategy to deal with Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran should be pressed to fulfill its October 2003
commitment to maintain a complete and verified suspension of all
enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," while the
United States and other members of the international community
pursue a framework for a more durable solution to the nuclear
issue. "Tehran must clearly understand that unless it
demonstrates real, uninterrupted cooperation with the IAEA process,
it will face the prospect of multilateral sanctions by the United
Nations Security Council."
- Resume a genuinely active involvement in the Middle East peace
process and press Arab states to do the same. "A serious
effort on the part of Washington toward achieving Arab-Israeli
peace is central to eventually stemming the tide of extremism in
- Adopt measures to broaden the political, cultural, and economic
linkages between the Iranian population and the wider world,
including authorizing nongovernmental organizations to operate in
Iran and consenting to Iran's application to begin talks with
the World Trade Oraganization. "Iran's isolation only
impedes its people's ongoing struggle for a more democratic
government and strengthens the hand of hard-liners who preach
confrontation with the rest of the world."
Task Force Co-chairs:
Zbigniew Brzezinski is former National Security Advisor to the
President, and author, most recently, of The Choice: Global
Domination or Global Leadership.
Robert M. Gates is the 22nd President of Texas A&M
University, one of the nation's largest universities and an
institution recognized internationally for its teaching, research
and public service. He assumed the presidency of the land-grant,
sea-grant and space-grant university on August 1, 2002. Dr. Gates
served as Director of Central Intelligence from November 6, 1991
until January 20, 1993. In this position, he headed all foreign
intelligence agencies of the United States and directed the Central
Intelligence Agency. Dr. Gates has been awarded the National
Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, has twice received
the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, and has
three times received CIA's highest award, the Distinguished
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