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Chuck Freilich: Engage Iran with a Big Stick

I am all for engaging with Iran. In principle, negotiations are always preferable and it is certainly worth a try. But, there is a big problem. Actually, a few. Last week, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indirectly put his finger on the big problem, when he stated that the timeline to a first Iranian nuclear bomb (a “calamitous” outcome, in his words) is now thought to be just one to three years. If the shorter assessment proves correct, there simply may not be enough time for effective engagement; if the longer, then we may still have time, but the question remains over Iran’s basic willingness to make a deal. President Barack Obama recently said that the end of 2009 is his target date for assessing whether Iran is serious about making progress. (He left himself wiggle room, however, as this is only the target date for assessing the prospects for progress—not for a deal). All of the candidates in Iran’s forthcoming presidential elections have expressed explicit support for continuing the nuclear program, although there has been some talk of possible change in the gratuitously confrontational strategy Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has adopted. As the elections are in June, it is unlikely that engagement with the United States could begin before July or August if Ahmadinejad wins. If one of his rivals wins, it may take a few more months to get a new policy into place. There is no doubt that the Iranians—masters of the “draw-out-the-negotiations-as-long-as-humanly-possible-and-even-longer” school of diplomacy—will seek to use engagement and negotiations as a means of gaining as much time as possible to complete the nuclear development process, even if there is a basic willingness to cut a deal. The stalling will make President Obama’s end-of-year timetable problematic, at best, which is critical if, as Mullen warned, we might only have until next spring before Iran has the bomb. Iran is most likely to respond only to a combined “stick-and-carrot” approach. The Obama administration, however, has opted for a middle-of-the-road approach, with sticks in the form of heavy sanctions as a consequence only in the event that the talks fail. This would be appropriate if we had more time, but we do not. Effective engagement must thus be accompanied, from the beginning, by a clear stick—a comprehensive package of sanctions to which U.S. allies will have signed on to from the start as part of a united Western front intended to leverage Washington’s willingness to engage. The upcoming few months could also be used in a further attempt to reach a deal with the Russians and Chinese for Security Council sanctions, but this is, in all likelihood, a forlorn hope.

David A. Andelman: The Political Undertones of Roxana Saberi's Release

A global campaign mounted for weeks by diplomats, statesmen, scholars, and scores of her fellow journalists finally paid off early Monday when Roxana Saberi walked out of the doors of Evin Prison in Tehran and, accompanied by her father, headed for the first leg of her journey back to her home in the United States. I was one of those who pitched in as a member of the Leadership Council of the Committee to Protect Journalists that was seeking her freedom. Indeed, the CPJ pulled out all stops—enlisting an international legal team at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton under the direction of James C. Goodale, journalists, and organizations across Europe and the Middle East—in an effort to help the Iranian leadership understand how counter-productive the actions of their legal system would be at a time when the United States is doing its best to open a constructive dialogue with the government in Tehran. Part of this involved a host of direct and indirect points of contact. For myself, I refused to appear again on Press-TV—the Iranian version of France 24, Voice of America, or other government-owned broadcast outlets—until Roxana was freed and allowed to leave Iran. Clearly stung by this one-man effort, one senior producer for Press TV observed that my boycott would be “counter-productive at this time when the two governments are trying to open a dialogue.” I pointed out that even more counter-productive were the actions against Roxana, a professional journalist thoroughly innocent of the charges brought against her—who, in contravention of every known international juridical standard, was hustled through a judicial proceeding in a single day, sentenced to eight years in prison, and never allowed to examine any of the evidence against her, or allowed to confront any of her accusers. Indeed, the entire process, cloaked in mystery, was a most unfortunate demonstration of how strained the quality of justice, let alone mercy, remains in many of the darkest corners of the world—especially Iran.

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