Think big

On Iran, begin with the end in mind


Think big
by Trita Parsi & Stanley Weiss

Only 15 minutes into his term as president, Barack Obama did what his predecessor had refused to do for eight years. He reached out to Iran.

By calling for a new approach to the Muslim world based on "mutual respect," Obama signaled Tehran that a new dawn in U.S.-Iran relations may be in reach.

His outreach was stronger and swifter than many had expected. It was a wise move, but there should be little surprise that Tehran has yet to fully respond. It won't.

While small steps like these are necessary to set the stage for diplomacy with Iran, they will not break the gridlock between the two countries. To get the Iranians to respond, Obama must start with the end in mind.

The temptation to begin small with confidence-building measures only and without a clarification of America's long-term objectives must be resisted. Due to the history of U.S.-Iran relations, small tactical steps won't work.

Indeed, the tactical route has been tried—and has failed—repeatedly. Tehran cooperated with Washington in forging the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan partly in hopes of a strategic shift in U.S.-Iranian relations.

The Bush administration, however, had no interest in any such shift and branded Iran part of the "axis of evil."

More recently, after Washington insisted on keeping U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq at the ambassadorial level, with no broader strategic dimension, Tehran resisted any further tactical cooperation, determined not to be taken advantage of again.

Tehran has used these encounters to test whether the U.S. is prepared to renounce external regime change and accept Iran's legitimate security interests and role as a regional power. But the Iranians have learned a lesson from these experiences—Washington is something like an estranged relative: it's not interested in getting back together and only calls when it wants something.

Seeing no larger American plan for reconciliation—Obama's outreach and respectful tone notwithstanding -- Tehran therefore resists any tactical reduction of tensions. Tehran is capable of securing its interests in Afghanistan and Iraq without the U.S., and feels no need to be helpful unless Washington is willing to reciprocate at the strategic level.

The Obama administration must decide on its end game -- its vision of Iran's role in the Middle East—and then, in a truly grand confidence-building measure, clearly communicate this end game to Tehran. In this sense, President Obama would be adapting a habit of highly effective diplomacy -- beginning with the end in mind.

Washington's vision for Iran should include the obvious: that Tehran respects the human rights of its citizens, that Iranian-backed organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas and Shiite militias in Iraq renounce violence and that Iran accept intrusive inspections of its nuclear activities to prevent any potential weaponization program.

To make this vision sustainable, however, Washington must accept that Iran, like any other nation, has legitimate security interests warranting an Iranian role in regional security architecture commensurate with its geopolitical weight.

Iran's regional role cannot be a negligible one. Whether Washington or the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East like it or not, Shiite Persian Iran, by virtue of its history, geography, population, religion and energy resources, has always been and will always be a regional power. Attempts at containing Iran, which is not a member of any legitimate regional security organization, have only encouraged Tehran to seek regional influence through illegitimate means.

To whom in Tehran should the Obama administration convey its vision for Iran? During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would reach out to "the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing." That leader is not the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls Iran's military and foreign policy. Through intermediaries, Obama should convey Washington's intentions to Khamenei, a sign of the trust that will be necessary for any successful diplomacy.

Washington could learn from the wisdom of Moshe Dayan, Israel's legendary soldier and foreign minister. When negotiating with Egypt in the late 1970s, Dayan didn't start with tactical cooperation.

Instead, he focused on something Egypt wanted. He declared his intent to return the Sinai to Egypt and challenged the Egyptians to help find a way to realize that vision. He succeeded, and 30 years later, Israel's peace with Egypt remains intact.

In contrast, the process of implementing the Oslo accords—more than a decade's worth of attempts at confidence building without addressing final status of the Palestinians—has left the Israelis and Palestinians with neither peace nor security.

President Obama, please take note. Don't simply begin talks with Iran, begin with the end in mind, including a Middle East vision that includes Iran.

Trita Parsi is president and co- founder of the National Iranian American Council and author of "Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States." Stanley A. Weiss is founding chairman of Business Executives for National Security. First published in



Iran Writes is wrong

by K Sajj (not verified) on

Iran Writes - interesting, but I think you're wrong. What Vali Nasr said on Charlie Rose sounded very similar to what Parsi writes. He also called for clarity on the end game, if I remember it correctly. In general, Parsi and Nasr seem to be very close to each other in their thinking - both recommend engagement, reject containment and seem to be associated with the Obama team.



by IranWrites on

Sorry for the typo, I mean IRI.


Trita did it again.

by IranWrites on

Yes we heard you. Luckily the one who is supposed to advise Obama, in addition to many others, is Vali Nasr. Fortunately he does not agree with you and Dr. Amir Ahmadi. I think you lost the game for this round, but do not give up my friend, there is always another election.

My dear "hamkish", how long you want to close your eyes. Obama should be out of his mind to make any sort of deal with IRS. Luckily he is not out of his mind. So do not waste your breath cooling IRI's soup, keep some for whenever a better situation arises. 


Re: Trita Parsi

by AnonymousX (not verified) on

Although I know this comment has a high chance of being deleted, but I am going to express my opinion of this article anyway.

Mr. Parsi writes,

"USA ... accept Iran's legitimate security interests"

"Washington must accept that Iran ... has legitimate security interests"

Once again, Mr. Parsi turns his back to the "legitimate" interests of the "People" of Iran, and instead is concerned for the security interests of the IRI.

I'd like Mr. Parsi to answer a few questions:

1. Can an illegitimate, murderous, oppressing regime even have any "legitimate" security interests?

2. Can the security concerns of the murderous IRI be considered above the legitimate concerns of the People of Iran?

3. What have always been the security interests of ANY oppressing, murdereous and illegitimate regime, today and in the past? I'll help answer this one. History shows us that it has been only one thing:

To continue its illegitimate existance while sucking the very life out of its oppressed citizens. One need only review history to reach the same conclusion.

Mr. Parsi's concerns for the security concerns of the barbaric IRI, over and above the legitimate concerns of the brutalized People of Iran, speaks volumes about his views.

Mr. Parsi, you have made your choice and sadly, it is the wrong choice.


Islamist regime is the best asset to the West

by Entrepreneur (not verified) on

Mullahs must not be worried at all for the survival of their regime. Their regime is the best the West could ever hope for.

Iran neighbour UAE spends $5 bln on arms deals
Reuters - World News
Feb 26, 2009

ABU DHABI - The United Arab Emirates, across the PERSIAN Gulf from Iran, signed military deals worth 18.4 billion dirhams ($5 billion) during an arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi this week, a senior officer said on Thursday.

Major-General Obaid al-Ketbi said the deals awarded at the five-day International Defence Exhibition were a five-fold rise over those signed at the last show in 2007, but denied that the PERSIAN Gulf Arab state was in the middle of an arms race.

"There is no arms race in the region," Ketbi said. "We have a strategic plan ... Each country focuses on its plans."

Iran has been locked in a dispute with the West over its nuclear plans, often raising fears in the region of a military conflict. Iran says its nuclear plans are peaceful but the United States says the Islamic Republic wants to make a bomb.

Some 897 companies from 50 countries participated in the arms show, Ketbi said.

"The numbers prove that the UAE and especially the Abu Dhabi economy is strong," Ketbi said, despite a global financial crisis and slump in oil prices. The UAE is the second-largest Arab economy and the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.

Contracts awarded on Thursday included a 430 million dirham deal with Italy's Fincantieri to supply one anti-submarine warship.

On Tuesday, Ketbi said U.S. companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin had been awarded contracts worth $2.8 billion for military transport aircraft by the UAE.


To Damon Jaan

by Benyamin on

It is not "gulf" it is Persin Gulf Just a correction. If some illiterate Arab nations can`t say or spell the real name you should not follow them consciensly or subconsciensly.

We are not talking about human rights or if the government of Iran is run by Thugs, we are talking about what the USA should do or how to revive the relations between Iran and USA.

I believe there should be "A" relationship of some sort betwen the two countries, since the lack of it will have far more graver consenquence than both sides can bear. Keep your friends close and keep your enemy closer!


Dear Trita Parsi , USA is Irrelevant !

by rainbowcountery on




U.S. should not legitiize the regime of butchers and holligans

by cyclicforward on

The foundation of IRI is at odds with the principles of U.S. I hope Obama realizes what kind of people these tugs are and put them under control.


I want the sanctions to be lifted,

by Mehrban on

People of Iran to be freed from their 30 year isolation and have some freedom of movement. Iranians in Iran want that too, they want to travel at will.  They want to go to the US or elsewhere to see their relatives, I am sorry if it does not suit someone's political purpose but some of Iranians' desires are just this simple. They want to live.  What is there to lose in talking to the Islamic Republic?



It all boils down to...

by Damon Jaan (not verified) on

What is in the best interest of the United States? Isn't that how this game will be played? Saudi Arabia has been a close ally for many years, as well as many 'Gulf' nations. Pakistan is on the brink of imploding ( as some claim ) . So from an American stand point is where most Americans are probly viewing this. Yes, (human) rights are violated in China, (major trade partner,partially countered the Russo-commi threat) and Saudi Arabia however, the US isn't supposed to police the world right? Well some say it should, others say it shouldn't . You cant really complain about the US not going into Darfur if your complaining about the US going into Iraq. Thats basic logic, or no?


Winnowing the sales pitch

by Fred on

When the nicely packaged, seemingly plausible, sound bites of the lobbyists are winnowed baring their true intentions, the survival of the Islamist regime is the ultimate destination. 

It is the Turkmenchay/Gulestan of our time, forfeiting Iranians’ long held aspiration to live in freedom for the survival of the ruling Islamist clique.

And the sad thing is some are hoodwinked by the slick presentation.


I wonder: You hit it on the

by Anonymous00 (not verified) on

I wonder: You hit it on the nail. That is exactly what they want. They want the US to help them supress dissent and their overthrow.


what are these "Iran's legitimate needs for security"?

by I wonder (not verified) on

I don't understand what these "Iran's legitimate needs for security" are.

If it is the question of regime change, it is quite preposterous. If America could easly change a regime short of a military attack, they would have changed the regimes in venezuela and Cuba. The question of any kind of military attack also went out the door as Bush left office.

So then does it mean that America must vow to never ever give moral support to those Iranians inside who want to topple the regime?! Does it mean that America must actively help mullahs smother dissent inside Iran and that America must start selling mullahs stun guns and anti-riot equipments as Brits and Germans have for so long?

What does it mean?

As for recognition of Iran as the main regional power, majority Sunni Arab states will never ever tolerate minority Shiite Iran to rule over them or dictate her will to them, with or without American help.

Amil Imani

"Change - Yes We Can?”

by Amil Imani on

As the Islamic Revolution completed its third decade, it would not be too difficult to realize the reality and the fruits of its mismanagement during its imperial and revolutionary eras. Throughout the three decades of its existence, the Islamic Republic has managed, notably, to produce more hunger, extreme frustration and anger, prostitution at a record pace, drug addiction beyond control, child execution without any regard to the international human rights bylaws. There are many reports regarding cases of child sexual abuse and molestation reaching epidemic proportions. Prosecution and imprisonment of the innocent people and systematic and illegal abuse of detainees and hundreds of gruesome acts have also been reported.

The genocidal Islamists have been doing all they can to completely wipe out the Baha’is in Iran as well as everywhere else in the world that their blood-drenched hand can reach. The Islamic government condones and promotes every measure of oppression against the Baha'is. The Islamists don’t even spare the dead. They bulldoze and even uproot the trees in Baha’is cemeteries.  Harassment of other religious minorities is prevalent and torturing innocent people beyond recognition is part of their modus operandi. They routinely hang dissidents and amputate the limbs of anyone for petty theft. They are responsible for the unmitigated poverty in the oil-rich country, sex slaves in the Persian Gulf region and the raping of children as young as 2 years of age.  Here is the Amnesty International report published in February 2009.

The Mullahs presently ruling Iran are faced with monumental threats. Internally, the great majority of the populace is against their misrule. Labor unions, teachers associations, student groups, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists and many others have suffered and continue to suffer inordinate hardship under the heavy-handed Mullahs and their front men. Externally, they are engaged in brinksmanship with the United States and Israel, while trying to wrestle the mantle of Islamic leadership from the Sunni Saudis and their Wahhabi cabal and President Obama intends to negotiate with these criminals rather than the legitimate owners of the country, the Iranian people. He will also fail miserably as did his four predecessors.

For 8 years, President Bush promised the Iranian people that America would support them in their struggle for freedom, but did he? The Iranian people stood up firmly only to be hanged by the Islamic Republic executioners. Can President Obama outdo President Bush’s rhetoric, or does he really believe in his motto “Change - Yes We Can?”

It would be wise and expedient for the community of nations and the newly elected President of the United States to show solidarity with the Iranian people and to implement maximum pressure against the illegitimate body of government calling itself the Islamic Republic of Iran to listen to the will of its citizens. The Islamic Republic hijackers must be forced to bow to the will of the Iranian people or there must be some sort of consequences.

There must not be, however, any compromise, any negotiation or any deals with the Islamists in Iran before making sure that the Iranian people are part of the equation. The era of mass politics, propaganda, nebulous sloganeering and magical solutions are over. It’s a do or die scenario for the Iranian people or perhaps for the people of the world. The Iranian people want nothing less than a complete regime change through the democratic process of a free referendum. We believe it is the surest, safest and the fastest way to achieve a democratic Iran and end the world’s nightmare of nuclear holocaust that is currently facing us all.


To Trita Parsi

by Benyamin on

Interesting piece!

Although I agree with you numerous occesions in your comment, but I disagree in some!

I don`t believe Iran-USA relationship will ever be anything as what we call normal? I believe Iran will never give up its influence on Hamas,Hezbollah or any other place that is or will be Iraian influence or satellite.

Iran  and the USAs relationship will be something like the USA and Russia. It is always going to be volatile. At best windy and at worse stormy! In my opinion the West lost Iran when it outcast Iran or ailianated it but supporting the Shah blindly and simply didn`t recognised the democratic movement in Iran over 50 years ago.

I wont go there, that is a totaly diferent topic but it did in fact started right there. The Iranians believed in the USA as honest democracy the blow back isnot blowing some american facility in the Persian Gulf but is the loss of trust. everything else is just by product of the loss of trust. The loss of trust isnot something americans can control or could control. Most Americans even the scholars believe that the loss of trust is BETWEEN both the USA and Iran. I say it is actually one way. The Iranians just simply don`t trust the Americans as they don`t trust the British. 

The USA has become the boy that cried wolf in the eyes of Iranians. That being said, there will be some sort of relationship even as high as ambassadorial rank but never smooth and with no ups and downs.

Those day are over between Iran-USA. So my advise to Obama is be a good driver! The best driver is the one that not only does drive paciently and alert but also is aware of other cars and drivers. Meaning, not only have your own interest in mind but have theirs as well! No matter what color the USA shows to the Iranians, they wont trust you ever again. That mentality is embeded in Iran`s cluture and perhaps is knitted just like thier RUG in their upbringing. So, respect Iranians and if you really are seeking normaliazing relations(and that is within the bounderies I just explained. Whatever normalizing relation means for both side) Then keep in mind, you should curb your expectations and remember even at the table while negotiating, Iranians don`t trust you anymore!



by Anonymous00 (not verified) on

Titra: He has already thought Big; hence, the appointment of Ross. Obama plays a 3 dimensional chess whereas mullah Inc. can only play one-dimensional.

Containment is the way forward, for the next 8 years! Mark my words, even with talks.

American's interests and the IRI' interest do not overlap or overlap too much. American Principles will not allow the US to accept Iran as a legitimate power, sharing the policing the ME, period.

Seeking legitimacy through illigitimate means, in other words, bullying has never worked and will never work. Americans are just as stubborn as the Iranians perhaps even much more so.


baba.....same ol propaganda....

by ali122 (not verified) on

it's very interesting that TP never criticized the mullahs and their horrendous record of pillage, murder, deceit, and down right evilness.
why is it that he always says "america should do this, and do that....?"
hardly ever have I read a negative comment about the treacherous rule of the mullahs and their goal of wiping everything and anything iranian or persian.
I bet TP is going to defend the akhoonds' crime of creating cemeteries in universities!
give it up.....for once stand up for iran and iranians instead of akhoonds