A group of former U.S. officials who advocate for softer policies on Iran is asking the Obama administration to “rebalance” its approach to the Iranian regime by putting increased emphasis on diplomacy.
Former Ambassadors William Luers and Frank Wisner called for a lighter touch against the state sponsor of terrorism during a briefing with Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.) on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
“Today we have [the Iranian regime] sort of where we want them,” said Luers. “We’ve achieved a great deal with the sanctions. … But we haven’t got a [nuclear] deal.”
Luers runs the Iran Project, which publishes papers supporting a friendlier approach to Tehran.
Luers said the U.S. should “be as aggressive on negotiations as we’ve been on sanctions” and “negotiate a deal in which we give up something in the process of getting something.”
Wisner agreed that the administration “must engage Iran diplomatically beginning with the nuclear issue.”
The Iran Project’s latest paper called on the Obama administration to “rebalance its dual-track policy toward Iran, strengthening the diplomatic track in order to seize the opportunity created by the pressure track. The United States should now dedicate as much energy and creativity to negotiating directly with Iran as it has to assembling a broad international coalition to pressure and isolate Iran.”
Luers and his organization have experience reaching out to regime officials. Beginning in 2002, Luers and other former U.S. officials met in Stockholm with a group from Iran twice a year for six years, he said at the briefing.
Wisner said “there is an ongoing discussion between Bill [Luers], and members of his group, and the Asia Society, and others, with the Iranian mission in New York.”
The Iranian mission in New York houses Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.
According to Wisner, U.S. attendees at these meetings are “very carefully selected, very high quality diplomats,” and attendees have included “senior Iranian officials, including in recent years [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad when he came for the [United Nations General Assembly] sessions.”
“[The Iranians] don’t use us as a channel, per se, but I think their main purpose is to test ideas to test ideas to gauge mood,” he said.
While Wisner said the dialogue has helped him get a sense of where the Iranians stand, he said, “I can’t guarantee you we see past the veil very clearly.”
Luers said he hopes the discussions can progress after the upcoming Iranian presidential election.
“We continue to do whatever we can do,” said Luers. “I think we’re waiting until the next [Iranian presidential] election to see if they can open up any more.”
The Iran Project appears to have at least one key ally in the Obama administration. Before Chuck Hagel was appointed Secretary of Defense, he signed on to two recent papers released by the organization, which emphasized the “costs” of using financial sanctions and military force against Iran.