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December 21, 2010 |  12 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Transatlantic Engagement with Iran on the Basis of Common Interests

Colette Grace Mazzucelli: The International Relations Learning Community at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs responds to atlantic-community.org’s Memos and argues that isolation and regime change in Iran are not viable options. Instead the West has to identify common interests with Tehran.

We discussed atlantic-community.org's two memos on increasing transatlantic cooperation regarding Iran's nuclear program in our international relations seminar at New York University's Center for Global Affairs: "Engaging Tehran with Concrete Reciprocity" and "Consistent Regime-Change Policy in Iran"

After a Skype conference call with Joerg Wolf and the authors of the second memo, we would like stress in our response to the memos the importance of identifying common interests with Iran despite the difficulties posed for each side given the respective leaders in Tehran and Washington. The stalemate with Iran on the nuclear issue demonstrates the limits of an isolationist policy, particularly for the United States given its interests in the Middle East. Isolation and regime change are not viable options in the present or future when considering the dynamics in the Middle East region.

P5 + 1 sanctions specifically aimed to influence the strong position of the Revolutionary Guards are, by most accounts, having an impact. More than a billion dollars a day in revenue is being lost to the Iranians. We do consider that ordinary Iranians, particularly the majority of its population that is under 30, are being hurt. Since the 2009 election, the population has suffered much already at the hands of the regime in Tehran. Many Iranians are not likely to blame UN sanctions for the economic conditions they face. As the sanctions continue, we aim to assess their impact on factions within the Revolutionary Guards. These factions, which impact on the regime from inside, include the older generation of the Guards, which is opposed to violence against the populace in the post-2009 era, and the newer generation that is supported increasingly by the present government. If and when change is to come, it is the factions within Iran's elite, coupled with the youth bulge in a country noted for its highly intelligent and tech savvy populace, that will bring about a transformation on its own terms within Iran’s borders. The Obama Administration has set a tone to engage with Iran when conditions allow this to occur. The support of regime change by the West through cooperation with the Iranian diaspora in different parts of the world is not likely to succeed given the leadership vacuum in Iran's opposition movement at present. It is also dangerous for the millions still living in Iran, many of whom residing in rural areas continue to support the present regime after the 2009 elections.

Where does this complex situation within Iran leave the nuclear diplomacy of the P5+ 1 as we think about engagement with concrete reciprocity? The ball is clearly very much in Iran's court to demonstrate its interest to engage concretely on the nuclear dossier. Iran’s strategy of ‘playing for time’ in the negotiations leads us to weigh carefully and agree with the proposal of our NYU colleague, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, to set a timetable in nuclear diplomacy of several months. A direct bilateral relationship between the US and Iran is necessary on a broad array of issues in the Middle East, particularly in those areas of immediate security concern, Afghanistan and Iraq. The US-Iran relationship can be defined across a spectrum of issues that are in each country’s interest, of which the nuclear agenda is one important component. The current domestic political context in Washington complicates the diplomatic agenda. Any substantial change or improvement in US relations with Iran's present regime will require bi-partisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike. Challenges to ratify the START Treaty with Russia illustrate the necessity and the difficulty to achieve bi-partisan support on a critical issue of US foreign policy.

The need to work with allies to address Iran’s nuclear technology program raises concerns in the learning community about the importance of EUrope’s relations with Turkey. The idea that Turkey ‘is lost’ to EUrope is refuted in favor of an emphasis on the opportunities different member states have to offer Turkey concrete prospects to join the Union in the future. P5 + 1 initiatives to maintain Turkish engagement with Brazil in nuclear diplomacy with Iran are viewed as positive along the lines analyzed by our colleague Dr. Sebnem Udum. Turkish EU membership is a sensitive issue owing to the growing Muslim presence within Union member states, which is likely to increase in the next generation, and as EU enlargement proceeds to include Muslim countries in the Western Balkans. In terms of E3 foreign policy toward Iran, however, the necessity to keep both Turkey and Russia on board to address Europe’s security concerns is imperative. Here Iran and Russia have the energy trump card to play as the transatlantic relationship is defined more in terms of specific issues, particularly energy security. As the Union engages in Asia post-Lisbon, the Iran dossier pushes EUrope to keep the Chinese on board as P5 +1 sanctions are implemented. This diplomacy is crucial given China’s growing trade relations with Iran. The Union is just as likely to weigh options in its evolving relations with India in view of developments in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) Peace Pipeline to deliver natural gas, which over time will transform relations in a region critical to EUrope’s security concerns.

Prof. Colette Mazzucelli and the members of the International Relations Learning Community, Center for Global Affairs at New York University.

Dr. Colette Mazzucelli is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and in the Department of Political Science at Hofstra University and also a WFI Fellow at Citizens for Global Solutions.

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Tags: | Iran |
 
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Nabi  Sonboli

December 21, 2010

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Dear Prof. Mazzucelli

You have rightly mentioned that “Isolation and regime change are not viable”, “supporting engagement” and “identifying common interests” are necessary. However I do not agree with the following points.

1-“The ball is clearly very much in Iran's court…” From 2003 to 2010 Iran has taken several steps that have not been appreciated: The big deal proposal, Tehran agreement with EU3, Paris Agreement with EU3, the modality agreement with IAEA in 2007, Tehran agreement with Turkey and Brazil, etc.

2-You have mentioned the “Iran’s strategy of ‘playing for time’ in the negotiations…” That’s what is repeatedly is mentioned by the media. Iran has already achieved what she has been looking for: independent access to peaceful nuclear technology. Iran does not need time to play for that. That’s why I think 5+1 is in the best time to solve the nuclear issue by recognizing Iranian peaceful nuclear activities.

3-I believe that nuclear issue was part of bilateral problems between Iran and the US. Internationalization of the issue prevented its solution. It is an important lesson that both Iran and the US should learn and try to solve their problems bilaterally in future. As we have seen in the nuclear case, inviting more players, bring more interests and complicate the situation more.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

December 21, 2010

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The author argues that isolation of, and regime change in Iran, are not viable options. At the same time, she seems to advocate the continuation of the sanctions to “assess their impact on factions within the Revolutionary Guards.”

With Britain and the EU having removed the Mujahideen-e Khalq from the list of terrorist organizations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considering to follow suite, and Obama Administration officials having hinted that another round of tougher economic sanctions - aimed at regime change - will be coming in early 2011, one must question the viability of engagement with, of course, the current regime.

For any engagement to succeed, Washington will have to take “regime change” off the agenda, including (at least the sharpest components of) the sanctions intended to achieve this goal. Additionally, a halt to sabotage is essential, and the military option must be taken off the table. The West must reaffirm Iran’s right to pursue a civilian nuclear programme, including uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes.

I beg to disagree with the author’s claim that “the ball is clearly very much in Iran's court to demonstrate its interest to engage concretely on the nuclear dossier”. There is no evidence whatsoever of any military nuclear programme in Iran, a NNPT signatory. Any discussion on this issue should take on board the nuclear arsenal in Israel, a non-NNPT signatory, and have as ultimate aim to achieve a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

A timetable in negotiations is only helpful if mutually agreed. An imposed or implied timetable amounts to a precondition which can only lead to failure.
 
Tobias Heinrich Siegfried Sauer

December 22, 2010

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Dear Prof. Mazzucelli,

thank you very much for your article, highlighting that a "regime-change" policy is not likely to solve the conflict between Iran and most nations in the UN. I would also agree with your assumption that "the ball is clearly very much in Iran's court to demonstrate its interest to engage concretely on the nuclear dossier". The West of couse can invite Iran to the dancefloor, but Tehran has to dance alone. However, what the West could do is choosing better music. Therefore, offering more concrete proposals could faciliate negotiations with Iran, while so far the U.S. and Europe are not indicating clearly what has to be done to have imposed sanctions relaxed. As you write (correctly, in my opinion), some issues should be solved bilaterally between the U.S. and Iran. Unfortunately, I cannot see how this can be achieved given the domestic conflict between Republicans and Democrats concerning issues of U.S. foreign policy.

Concerning your comments on the European part of negotiations with Iran, I would not emphasize too much Turkey's membership in the EU. While Turkey might become a EU-member state that will occur rather in decades, not in years (I would also disagree with your assumption, that Turkey's Moslem population is an obstacle to a possibile membership. A real problem is it's huge and relatively poor population, which would easily overcharge Brussels' budget. What is more, the EU is currently facing an internal crisis threatening its legitimacy within the population - eroding the former "permessive consensus".) Anyway, Turkey's efforts in the nuclear-dispute should be welcomed and are in fact recognised, as the next round of negotiations will be held in Istanbul.

To reach progress in negotiations, the U.S. should immediately start a consensus-finding-mission with the White House and Congress in order to create a more coherent Iran-policy. At the same time, the EU finally should become more active again, working out a road map of proposals based on concrete reciprocity.
 
Anamaria  Tamas

December 23, 2010

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Dear Professor Mazzucelli,

It is clear that you offer a very detailed and expert argument regarding a desirable relationship with Iran, one which I do not wish to attempt to refute here. You talk about the necessity of a „bilateral relationship between the US and Iran” regarding, among others, nuclear agenda, Iraq and Afghanistan. You also mention the importance of Turkish and Russian engagement to „address Europe’s security concern”. I concur entirely with the desirability of these prospects, however I think one misses the underlying cause of instability in the Middle East, the one crucial factor that upholds the belligerency of the Iranian’s government and its unflinching refusal to engage in any sort of constructive relationship with the West: Palestine.

What is Palestine? Robert Fisk calls it the last war of colonization. I do wish to strive for verbal neutrality here regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, however I think everyone can agree that the Palestinian “situation” is resulting in an enormous loss of human lives under the most dismal and inhumane conditions. In the eyes of the Islamic world, Palestine represents a constant and humiliating insult, the purest example of Western exploitative and depraved intentions in the Middle East. Iran is materializing on this vitriolic attitude to preserve its regime by portraying itself as one of the only defenders of its fellow Muslims
against this great evil. Therefore, why would Iran start engaging in constructive “bilateral relationships” with US, when its raison d’etre is its opposition to the West, since the West is clearly its archenemy? Unless the US supports the successful formation of a free Palestine, based on the 1967 borders, one doubts that there would be any meaningful and lasting constructive cooperation between the US and Iran.
 
Unregistered User

December 23, 2010

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Dear Prof. Mazzucelli,

The current issue with Iran's nuclear program is lack of transparency. As long as Tehran refuses to ratify the Additional Protocol, which would provide for enhanced safeguards inspections, the international community will continue have doubts on Iran's "real" intentions.

Uranium enrichment technology is a critical one. The fact that it does not write in the text of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that non-nuclear-weapon-states cannot have full nuclear fuel cycles does not grant Iran the right to pursue civilian nuclear power with lack of transparency. That is why, it is Tehran's obligation to first alleviate these concerns on transparency and to comply with the Treaty's spirit.

Having said that, Iran is right in expecting "equal treatment" in negotiations. The strategy to keep Iran's activities "civilian" should be engagement and not isolation.

One should also remember that religion does not play a role in Turkey's approach to Iran. In fact, they have different Islamic dominations. One reason for Turkey's ability to talk to Iran is that it understands the regional circumstances and security concerns.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

December 23, 2010

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"Iran is operating a worldwide recruitment network for nuclear scientists to lure them to the country to work on its nuclear weapons programme, officials have told the Daily Telegraph."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8219315/I...

Mrs. Mazzucelli,

again, why don´t you consider the military program (missile armament, Shahab-program for nuclear warheads), terrorist activities (Hamas, Hezbollah) and the Green protest movement as important?

Are these marginal points to kill some civilists in Israel, some dissidents in Vienna and Berlin, Jews in Argentinia. Is it a marginal point that the Iranian regime brutally forced down peaceful protests using torture prisons, executions (most in the world related to the population size) and mass rapists?

Why not offer a theory that can explain, why Iran is doing this and draw conclusions what they are capable of doing in the future?

Though, you need not to buy my argument that the regime is at its limits in domestic policy and you offer stabilizing measures from outside, you have to understand that the human rights violation record won´t get any better in compliance with the Iranian regime. There is not the slightest indicator that this strategy has brought progress.

Instead the campaign to free Sakineh Ashtiani reached massive public protests and put pressure on the regime, because the world cleary sees what they are doing. Fortunately, Sakineh is still alive thanks to the massive protests. You see that progress is possible if you go against the regime, not with the regime.
 
Colette Grace Mazzucelli

December 23, 2010

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Dear Professor Sonboli,

Thank you for your recent commentary, which I appreciate for its insights, and for your response to our policy memo. The CGA at NYU IR learning community welcomed the chance to share views with our German counterparts about relations with Iran. The initial Skype interaction and our exchanges now on Atlantic.Community.org's website speak to the opportunities emerging in global education for this and future generations of analysts, practitioners, and scholars. I look forward to what is possible for us to imagine in our teaching, in our research, and in our service, bearing in mind what the communications revolution advances in technology afford us as an international commuity of educators. It is in this spirit that I respond to your three points.

Let me begin with your closing point, if I may, please. I agree that the nuclear issue is part of a larger, bilateral dossier of issues between Iran and the US. We know that the relations between our countries are complex and burdened by the weight of history, too much history, some would observe, even though in years that history is not long, compared to that of the Persian civilization. I am less inclined to believe that the internationalization of the nuclear issue has prevented a solution from emerging. This is why. The issue of nuclear technology in the Middle East by definition involves more than one country. My own conviction is that there is a blueprint for the region, emphasized in the 1995 NPT Review, of a nuclear weapons free zone there. I support that blueprint as one in the interests of states in the Middle East and in the world. The challenge in the Iran-US bilateral relationship is, I believe, one of mutual acceptance of diplomatic priorities.

I ask for your views on this brief clip from a longer Iran presentation hosted by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs just after the 2009 election: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw5EvbfY38Q As I understand the context, the nuclear issue is one among an array of concerns to discuss in the interests of each country - for the US it is the number one priority whereas for Iran this is not necessarily the case.

My sense of the situation is as follows: of fundamental concern in the nuclear issue is not only the practical context. The symbolic one, along with the practical reality, is equally significant. This brings us to a starting point rooted in culture, in national pride, which, as I understand, is a strong motivator for Iran in the development of its nuclear programs. There is no disagreement between the US and Iran regarding the right to the peaceful development of nuclear energy, which is in Iran's interest as a sovereign nation. The crux of the matter between our countries is a lack of trust that peaceful development is Iran's intent. The 2009 election and its outcome also raises questions, in the perception of some, including Iranians themselves, as to whether any nuclear agreement reached with the present regime would be a credible one. This means that the very issue that should be most the subject of diplomacy between the US and Iran, from the US standpoint, is not. Sanctions are in, particularly those that aim at the vast fortunes of the Revolutionary Guards. I agree with you that precious opportunities to make progress overall in the US-Iran relationship have been lost over the past decade. I say to you that, in hindsight, this is the single most unfortunate setback in American diplomacy since 2001.

I would go further and propose this to you between us as educators: asking questions about how to reset the bilateral relations between our countries, which I see as the single most important US diplomatic priority of the next decade, is one of our ethical responsiblities. We agree the reset must be on the basis of engagement with an emphasis on common interests. This leaves us, I suggest to you, with how to recalibrate diplomatically, practically, the nuclear issue so that negotiators on both sides can focus attention more broadly and then, when the time comes, narrow in on the nuclear questions as an integral part of a much larger bilateral agenda. The diplomatic challenge raises the more fundamental question: can the two regimes, Iranian and US, negotiate together on the basis of good faith? I believe diplomacy is one framework that can redefine our relationship. This will take time to implement. I say one framework because as a 21st century educator, there are other frameworks to envision, some of which we have yet to conceive. If politics is, traditionally, the art of the possible, education is, and will increasingly become, untraditionally, in this century, the art of the imaginable. I propose to you that another framework to rewrite the history of US-Iranian bilateral relations is among our respective peoples. Here education is as central to the cultural agenda as diplomacy is to the nuclear one. How do we conceive that education directly between our citizens in the age of revolution - the digitally networked technology (DNT) revolution? In fact, our exchanges on this website are a first step along the journey. Could we take another step? May we develop over time a portal of knowledge for on-going interactions among Iranian and US students, using the various technologies at their disposal, including the mobile, to help them explore the ways in which they see each other and our respective countries in the world today? These interactions among our peoples, not media stereotypes that are often misleading, can provide a solid foundation upon which to learn over time about and from each other. This is particularly true for those living in the more remote areas of our countries.

Rewriting the history of Iran-US relations will be, I believe, as difficult for each side as it is imperative for both together. The burden of the past is heavy, particularly for Iran if we think back to 1953. This, Professor, is where I say to you, the ball is in Iran's court: your country has the greater effort to make to accept what happened to Iran's democracy at that time and still rebuild the relationship with the US today. This is as significant for young Iranians to contemplate now as it was for their elders then because 1953 was a turning point in history. I do believe that we must reference this event, objectively, while realizing the strong emotions that are aroused. The nuclear issue is the tip of the iceberg. What is underneath is so deep that diplomacy alone is insufficient to address the issues of concern we must confront. This is, first and foremost, I believe, a moral endeavor for which education in this century, of this time, is primarily responsible. To conceive of how 21st century education might play a role in our relations is a present and future task, bearing in mind that the future in the DNT revolution we experience at such a pace is now. This task is at once our opportunity and our challenge, which states and societies in Iran and the US have the choice together to accept or reject.

After speaking with negotiators on both sides, I am convinced that under the appropriate circumstances, at the right time, a nuclear agreement could be reached in a matter of months. You rightly point out that the groundwork has been laid by our European allies and by the P5 + 1. A sticking point is verification, namely, what is permitted inside the borders by respective, sovereign countries. This brings us back to the fact that an agreement is made on the basis of trust. A country has more incentive to play for time when trust is not the foundation of a relationship. In this context, I ask for your views as to how trust between the US and Iran, between Iran and the West, may develop. This is a fundamental query for the Muslim world thinking also in terms of Sunni-Shia dynamics in the Middle East. Forgive me please, I have written too much in light of your succinct comments. It is my hope that these ideas may convey to you how central these questions are to my thoughts and experience. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance in this forum.

Sincerely, Professor Colette Mazzucelli, MALD, PhD, Center for Global Affairs at New York University, and WFI Fellow, Citizens for Global Solutions
Tags: | Iran-US Relations |
 
Nabi  Sonboli

December 23, 2010

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Distinguished members of Atlantic Community;
Dear participants in this debate; and
Dear Prof. Mazzucelli
We are looking for common interests, however our minds are so busy with the differences and problems that we have almost forgot basic commonalities. Believing in God and having common Prophets are more important than all other differences and problems. If our Prophets were alive, I’m sure they did not have any problem with each other. Why their followers cannot be so?
Commemorating the birth of our Prophet Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him), I’d like to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to all of you and your families. I hope your new year be filled with health, success and happiness. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, as well as a happy and peaceful New Year for 2011.


 
Nabi  Sonboli

December 25, 2010

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The crux of the matter:

Dear Prof. Mazzucelli,
(I'm just a researcher). Thank you very much for your comment. You have raised many important issues that it is not so easy to cover within one comment. Let me begin with the point that both of us agree with. As you have rightly mentioned" The crux of the matter between our countries is a lack of trust".
1-Before 1953 the US was among few powers that had a very positive image in Iranian society, especially because of its support for constitutional revolution in early 20th century and also, opposition to UK-Russia interventions in Iran and ultimatum to the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Iran after Second World War.
2-The military coup d'état against democratic government of late Dr. Mosadeq by the US-UK and reinstalling the Shah dictatorship and then supporting him for a long time, totally destroyed that positive image.
3-When I was searching the reason for invasion of the US embassy by the students after the revolution, I found that the main reason for that was their deep concern about another coup d'état against the new Islamic republic. As you my know some efforts also had been done in this direction.
4-Then we had the Iraqi war lunched by Saddam and supported both the West and then East against Islamic republic that only had the peoples support. It had one million casualties and almost all Iranians lost at least one of their relatives.
5-It is not the history. Those how suffered during the Shah time, still are in power. Those who have lost their fathers are between 20 to 40 years old. Those who were fighting during the war now are in offices from top to bottom.
6-Consequently those who are targeted today by sanctions and isolation are those who have been targeted in the past by intervention and military action. When the governments in the west talk about supporting human rights and democracy, minds in the Middle East interpret that as intervention and coup d'état. It is interpreted in the west as conspiracy theory. But that's not true. Any one interprets others behavior according to his/her experience, although it may not always be the right interpretation.
 
Nabi  Sonboli

December 25, 2010

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How to develop trust?

Dear Prof. Mazzucelli,
Although the burden of history is heavy, however, I think we have to learn from the past but not stay in the past. To develop the trust between Iran and the US and also Iran and the west, I think paying attention to the following points is necessary:
1-Direct communication. Both side needs to sit together and express their opinions clearly and directly. These communications needs to be done at different levels, from top official levels to think tanks, university students and journalists to encouraging tourism.
2-We should not be limited to like minded people. They have fewer problems with each other. Dialogue among those who have different opinion is necessary.
3-To develop trust both side should refrain from increasing the burden of the past. Sanctions, isolation, military threats destroy trust and strengthen negative perceptions.
4-With regard to the human rights, democracy and terrorism, double standard behaviors have weakened the West position in this regard. These issues are legal issues and needs to be left to judiciary systems and neutral lawyers not political organizations. If you compare the human right reports of EU, US etc, you will clearly understand what I mean. This process will not contribute to improvement of human rights in any country.
5-Nuclear free zone in the Middle East is the position that Iran has supported for many years. If that's the matter, why the negotiations have been limited to Iranian nuclear issue. Nuclear activities of all Middle Easter countries should be to subject of negotiation.
6-I do not agree with free riding. The west should not expect Iran cooperation to solve the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan while increase pressure on Iran. Iran should be regarded and treated as a regional partner not a threat.
7-Detach foreign policy from internal politics. Doing so has turned the national interests of both nations into internal political games. Furthermore, every one or two year we have an election in Iran and the US. If we want to link them we have to wait forever.
8-I do not think that static international relation theories are able to provide a solution for long term problems. I believe in dynamic nature of human mind and behavior. There is not a long distance between enmity and amity. That's why I'm optimistic about the possibility of putting aside past heavy burden and present negative eyeglasses.
Following the issue in the Western think tanks for many years, I have gradually reached to the conclusion that the main problem is not lack of right solutions, but lack of right wills to implement them.
 
Colette Grace Mazzucelli

December 28, 2010

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Dear Dr. Sonboli,

Thank you for your responses to my posting. I would like to take each in turn over time please. These are important matters to exchange views in dialogue. You write:

"Any one interprets others behavior according to his/her experience, although it may not always be the right interpretation."

I agree with you and believe the explanation you provide sets the context for relations between Iran and the United States since the 1950s. I am a comparativist by education. Context is critical when studying about different countries. I emphasize this point in my comparative politics course.

Also in education, which is a different albeit related aspect of my training, we have the "interpretivist" point of view in contrast to the functionalist perspective and Marxist theory. These different approaches in education are not meant to be static. They aim to help us as responsible, professional educators think about the relation of schooling to society and about the future of society as globalization proceeds.

This "interpretivist" view is critical, for example, when educators in the United States teach about Iran. How aware are we of the role that past events may play in present times? The international relations syllabus I teach in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, for which the policy memo you read was written, includes the book "Dangerous Games" authored by historian Margaret MacMillan, our esteemed Canadian colleague, now warden of St. Antony's College at Oxford University where I attended a conference about the European Union a few years ago.

It is my experience as an educator that graduate students in a professional program of global affairs appreciate the chance to engage with history, as individuals and as they contribute to Atlantic-Community.org - participating in a transatlantic public debate with global implications. The opportunity to engage with history is also essential for graduate students as they participate in our New York classroom during a crisis scenario designed to help them learn practically about international relations theories. In a program for scholar-practitioners, these theories may come alive in the real world as the words in the books provoke critical thinking about the challenges of our 21st century.

One of the alternative theories to realism and liberalism is constructivism, whose thinkers argue that the "most important aspect of international relations is social, not material."

As I understand your explanation, and please correct me, if I misunderstand, history is present, alive today in Iran, in the actors on the religious, economic, social, legal, and political scenes in the country. The coup in 1953, the Revolution in 1979, the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s - all influence the present day actions in Iran and interactions with the United States. This is the social reality that sets the context of our bilateral relationship in 2010.

More fundamentally, this social reality is a foundation on which to reconstruct Iran-US bilateral relations. As we progress slowly in our diplomacy, we must acknowledge these social dynamics as much as material forces. As difficult as this may be for our respective countries, mutual understanding must gradually displace mutual distrust as common interests are defined to form the basis for policymaking in the Middle East as well as other regions in the world. Strategic dialogue is one alternative to "carrot and stick" diplomacy.

Has my explanation above grasped the initial points you are making? If so, I would like to proceed. If not, I ask for your clarification. Thank you.

Sincerely, Professor Colette Mazzucelli (in this forum, please, if you so choose, use my first name, Colette)
 
Nabi  Sonboli

December 30, 2010

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Dear Colette

Thank you very much for your response.
Let me briefly express my opinion about the three topics that you have mentioned: IR Theories, Social Context and strategic dialogue.

1- IR Theories

When I mentioned that we cannot solve the problems by IR static theories, I mean those theories that at present are used for policy making not teaching. As you know, think tanks are somewhere between practitioners and educators. The generation that now decides for the people around the world mostly have educated more than 20 years ago. So there is a gap between educational developments and practical ones that think tankers try to fill; if they can upgrade their own education.
If we just take a look at the newspapers we can distinguish that two main groups try to influence the current international relation debates: ideologues and strategists. The first group tries to present an ideological picture of the events depending on their ideology, liberalism, socialism, nationalism …isms, and sell their ideas to the people and politicians.
Strategists try to present a picture of the world based on their rational definition of interests, challenges, threats … and do the same. The first group is ideology-centric (we-others); the second is state-centric and sometimes region-centric (US-China, Transatlantic-Middle East, EU). Both group: first, mostly are dealing with the interaction between the subjects and forget the internal developments inside them. Second, they regard their subject as material or ideological while human being and society is more than material and ideology. We regard many factors, especially human being as the main player, as constant while it is internally dynamic and changeable. While minds are changing, we just try to look at the faces and read the words.
Another problem in the social science educational system is still somehow following natural sciences and makes too much emphasis on specialty and specific cases. Human being and human society as the main subject of human relations (HR not IR) is a multifaceted phenomenon. Concentrating on one aspect leads to wrong understanding and consequently wrong decisions with many unintended consequences.
Thinking more about the current problems, I found that the root causes of the problems in IRs are in educational systems. Those who lunch wars, turn to terrorism, violate human rights, preach democracy- support dictatorship, destroy the environment … mostly have educated from political, economic, business … schools. What have they learned in the past that behave in this manner today? Current educators are instructing next generations of decision-makers. Current theories will lead to what kind of decisions in future? Do they lead to a better world in future or not? Social science and HR needs to develop more comprehensive way of thinking and more group research including different people with different backgrounds.


2-Social Context

Regarding social context, you have understood the point correctly. I want to add two more points. We have had these historical experiences and they are still alive. However, this social reality is part of the context in 2010 that we live in not all of it. During the past 30 years many social, political and economic changes have happened at domestic, regional and global levels. Gradual context change during the past decades have provided an appropriate ground to leave the past behind and begin a new era, however transatlantic partners (and some regional players) try to rejuvenate and revive the negative historical contexts. History has enough negative things for all. That’s why I think this is a dangerous process that at least prolongs the problems and prevents finding an appropriate solution, and at worst leads to catastrophic situation for all.

3- Strategic Dialogue
As you have correctly mentioned Iran and the US should enter into strategic dialogue by restarting with common interests. Iran-US relations are not just prisoner of the past but prisoner of others who think they will benefit more from current situation. I think everyone will benefit from Iran-US dialogue to contribute to peace and security in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. Iran and the US should not be misused as a hedge against each other.
I do not say that every one agrees with this idea, and we should not have such an expectation. However, the main reason for opposition to such an idea is not the past but present US behaviors. If the US changes its behavior toward Iran, having such a dialogue will have more support. Increasing pressures and at the same time asking for dialogue and publicizing Iranian positive steps as withdrawal from its positions is not something that anyone welcomes in Tehran. Dialogue needs appropriate situation.
Some in the west believe that we should not go into such a dialogue with so called conservatives but with reformists. Let’s be honest: first, we had a reformist government in Iran for 8 years and everyone knows how transatlantic partners supported them. The US even did not agree with providing one civil aircraft for Reformists by France and then called Iran as part of “axis of Evil”. And EU3 did not agree with enrichment for Iran even at a pilot plan (16 centrifuges) while then Reformist government fully cooperated and postponed all nuclear activities for two years. Second, as I mentioned before, different political currents have existed in Iranian society and will continue to exist in future. It’s not in anyone’s interests to link national interests to internal political developments. The old game of playing different groups against each other is no longer effective. Third, if we pay closer attention to the US/EU strategy toward Iran we see more continuity than change; containment is thirty years old now. It means that there is some kind of consensus among transatlantic partners to continue pressure on Iran.
In such a situation talking about good ideas like strategic dialogue is not easy. A bipartisan approach inside the US and a coordinated effort at transatlantic level are necessary to end the deadlock. While EU/US has so many tools to encourage Iran for more cooperation, it is not clear why they have turned mostly to coercive tools during the past three decades. And at present the transatlantic partners expect Iran to consider their security concerns while they are not ready to do the same with regard to Iranian security concerns.
The real intention of the US and some of its partners at transatlantic level needs to be explored. Three decades of pressure, sanction and military threat cannot be ignored easily and they do not support any good will toward Iranians with any inclination. The US needs to send clear messages that support good will. It cannot be done by changing tone. Behavior change is necessary.
The train needs to change its track to reach a mutually beneficial target. That target is regional peace and stability in the Greater Middle East.
As Baghdad negotiations demonstrated, strategic dialogue for regional peace and development is possible. And, as far as there are both bilateral and multilateral concerns, such a dialogue needs to be done at both levels.
 

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