When and how?

US-Iranian engagement


When and how?
by Ahmad Sadri

On Nowruz, the day when Iranians celebrate the coming of spring and the new Iranian calendar year, US President Barack Obama took the helm of American foreign policy towards Iran and dramatically communicated his will to chart a new course away from the failed policies of the past. "My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us", Obama said in a video message to Iranians.

But given the upcoming Iranian presidential elections in June, the real challenge for the United States is when and how to further engage Iran.

Obama understands that there are vast areas of convergence between the United States and Iran when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more areas where constructive engagement could produce tangible results for both sides. Earlier this month Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, announced the administration's plan to invite Iran to a conference on Afghanistan. This meeting, scheduled for next week, could be the launching point for shared action.

For instance, the United States and Iran could cooperate to prevent the trafficking of drugs from Afghanistan into Iran, and from there to the rest of the world. The international community would applaud such an undertaking, as it would help to choke the bottleneck of the worldwide opium trade. Stopping drug runners could also help address the immediate political concerns of Iran and the United States by financially starving some of the groups within the Taliban that benefit from such sales.

Bringing law and order to Iran's western frontier, where the Iranian army and police are outgunned, outmanned and outwitted by increasingly aggressive smugglers, would weaken or eliminate drug running outfits. Some of these local operators are in alliance with Al Qaeda, which is waging a two-pronged terrorist campaign against both the United States and Iran, as well as the Shi'a populations of Pakistan and Iraq.

The announcement of American interest in the shipment of appropriate transportation, reconnaissance and communications hardware to the areas of Iran bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the "war on drugs" is more than a metaphor, would be enormously popular amongst Iranian civil society as well.

Successive bumper crops of opium and the virtually free flow of drugs into Iran have dropped the price of heroin in Iran's western provinces lower than that of cigarettes, unleashing an ugly and deeply disheartening epidemic of heroin addiction among Iranians. Many Iranians, including me, have witnessed the wasting away and death of young members of their families due to the scourge of cheap and abundant drugs.

One would be hard pressed to imagine a more auspicious opening in Iranian-American relations than scenes of cooperation between the experts of both countries to address a concern common.

But before shared action can occur, diplomatic relations must be reinstated. There is no doubt that a great gesture would speak louder than mere promises of a grand bargain. Any diplomatic approach must be combined with some sort of concrete action. After three decades of missed opportunities, Iranians of all political walks are distrustful of furtive missives delivered by cloaked emissaries.

Besides, there is always the vexing question of choosing the right interlocutor for negotiations.

Following Obama's video message, extending a hand directly to the powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would appear to circumvent the democratically elected parliament and president. And approaching the hardliner President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would compound this risk by opening negotiations with a less powerful leader who could be in the lame duck twilight of his presidency. Such an early move could also strengthen his bid for another term.

Nor can Obama afford to wait for the results of the June elections because it might radically diminish the goodwill necessary for negotiations in case of a conservative win.

The best option is to dispatch the message with an American congressional delegation in an attempt at a dialogue between elective bodies.

Regardless of to whom he might convey his words, Obama's goodwill must be readily translatable to dramatic deeds with immediate benefits to both Iran and the United States. Only then can Obama effectively push at the 30-year-old logjam of distrust between the two countries.

Ahmad Sadri is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology as well as Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College, Chicago. First published in Etemade Melli newspaper in Iran. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


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more from Ahmad Sadri

Just be patient

by Hopeful (not verified) on

In no time, Iran's mullah regime will be exactly like the Shah's regime, a U.S. close ally but MINUS the social freedom everybody enjoyed in that era and took for granted.

Saudi Arabia will be Iran's example with some minor differences.


Do I know What iss Terrorist means?

by 1hamvatan (not verified) on


Now, back your comment: This is perfect example of people who are evading truth about Iran. I am now certain that you do not live in Iran and have no clue what a miserable life people of Iran are going through on daily basis.
our people are being terrorized just very much like what
the Gestapo were doing in Germany, but now we have them as Sepah Pasdaran. Ture the akhounds were brought by the western powers, but at the end it is the will of people to change not the westerns/eastern (whatever) powers.They care less so long as the oil is flowing almost for free. That is the main key. United States should NOT negotiate with ISLAMIC TERRORISTS REGIME NOT NOW NOT LATER.


landanneshin, I enjoy reading your posts, but

by Ostaad on

I have a tiny tiny bone to pick with you, too. It seems you consider us, Irano-Americanos a bit on the dim witted side, hence your pand-o-andarz and your subtle patronizing tone in your posts, which I read and enjoy.

I am one of those Irano-Americans, and I assure you my eyes are wide open and I hear you loud and clear, homie.

Since you seem to take pride in living in landan, the seat of the evaporated empire, that we on this side of the Atlantic may be giving the farm away just because that goat herder from Texas put some peanuts on the table and said come and get it you Irano folks. True some opportunists here did swarm around the bait and took some, but there are a lot of us who have kept our genetic skepticism and saw it for what it was. You need not worry no more, brother.

Oh, one more thing before I let you go, when a person becomes an American citizen, he/she BECOMES an American. Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it true that one never BECOMES a Brit even after getting a passport? What's the term that describes you guys, a "British Subject", is it? Or is it a "British Object"? Well, forgive me for thinking out loud. 

Oh, one more thing, before I really go away. It is called "realpolitik", one word.

Now boro bekhab and have nice dreams. 


Even more Rhetorical Nonsense?

by KouroshS (not verified) on


You seem to be utilizing the same logic that you demonstrated in analyzing team melli's performance!

Your criticism of the IRI and their corruptly run Election and governance system is very valid and Just, but To even suggest that, there is indeed an option for another country to go through Iran's constitution and come up with all forms of Inconsistencies and Flaws, Is so Unreal and so far away from the actuality. What, in your opinion will be the Pracitical applications? It should be obvious to anyone for now, even the leaders of IRI themselves, that what they preach and the way they rule their country is nothing but a big sham, How do you think anyone will benefit by US or any other country pointing out those flaws yet again??


That's Called "Real Politik"

by landanneshin (not verified) on

It is indeed refreshing to come across an article by an Irano-American who sees the reality of international affairs, someone who is not sleep walking in a mixture of wishful thinking induced by believing the words and promises of some demagogue politicians and their delusive principles.

Judging by some of the more recent writings by Irano-Americans on the possible Obama effect on the Irano-US relations, and more telling than that, the expressed reactions to them, I sincerely do wonder how many Irano-Americans did, and still do, believe when the previous American adminstration coined the phrase "Axis of Evil" and put Iran's name to it they really meant it; or believed George Bush and Co., when time and time again, on stopping Iran's nuclear activity, said "all options are on the table".

I hope, by having lived in America for a decade or two, they have not lost the most valuable asset every Iranian should posses, and that is enlightened skeptism!!

Regardless of any individual's personal opinion, we are the nation who invented the most telling rebuffs. Where else would you find a more beautiful expression like "Boro baba haal nadari" or " Beshin kenar baad biyad" and many many more!

When George Bush and Co. allocated millions of dollars to "educate Iranians on the beauty of freedom" and alas,many Irano-Americans rushed to get a share of that windfall, did anyone realise how void of any real meaning that was? equally, the same could be said of the new adminstration's discovery of the merits of the "unclinched diplomatic solution"

While welcoming this new American awakening-because it is more positive than old "threats", I hope all Irano-Americans to see with their own eyes that when Richard Holbrooke went to a meeting with iran's Deputy Foreign Minister in the Hague, that was because they need Iran's assistance in Afghanistan now.

And if tomorrow Iran made a consession to America on Palestine,it would be for the same reason. That's called REAL POLITIK. And in that club, nobody asks who's Evil or Angel.


Good idea, 1 Hamvatan

by farokh2000 on

I have no idea which Vatan you belong to but you don't seem to really know what the term "Terrorist" means.

Does that mean terrorizing innocent people and killing them for no reason, maybe?. If so, then what is the difference between the United States invading far away Countries, murdering their people and taking over their resources and the criminal Mullahs, who were brought in by CIA's support and now have taken control of the Country, making life miserable for their own people?.

These Mullahs have not invaded/occupied anyone, nor have they killed people of other Countries.

Granted, they are still criminals, but are they worse than the Masters who brought back Khomini from  exile in Iraq?

Hopefully, you still remember how your so called "terrorists" came to power.



by 1hamvatan (not verified) on

Why Would United State would negotiate with Iran?
I though, one must not negotiate with terrorists. I guess I was wrong?


Your Islamic credentials is what blinds you

by eroonman on

Do you really believe that Iran's parliament and President are democratically elected? Really? You mean the kind of democracy, where the candidates are approved by the guardian council, the elections are conducted by the government, the election is run by the government, the ballots are counted by the government, and surprise surprise, the results announced by the government! And with nary an independent inspection?

Ahmadinejad is the hand picked stooge of Khamenei, most likely in spite to Rafsanjanis attempt at a political coup the last time around. This time it is crystal clear that the suggestion that Khatami might take another shot at reform, was met with the obvious reaction, namely death threats. Leaving the substantially weak Mooussavi as the sacrificial lamb, painted to look like Iran was given the choice of a moderate and once again, surprise surprise, the government run scam, will no doubt announce that Iran rejected the moderate, and chose the people's "hero" and Ahmadinejad wins again!

The Obama administration should simply study Iran's constitution and mrely point out the many inconsistencies and outright criminal clauses foisted upon the increasingly powerless Iranian people.

Thanks for your piece, but you are way off the mark if you actually suggest that Iranian government is reasonable and open to normal diplomatic processes. The real goal appears to be to point away from it's own problems, and the US is the perfect foil for that currently. Don't look for Iran to give up the pleasure it gets from this anytime soon. If it did, and scrutiny was placed on Iran instead f the US, the world would ask more about the development of the bomb that Iran is hiding.

Ali A Parsa

Nice article, but...

by Ali A Parsa on

We have to admit that the flow of narcotics like flow of any commodity is governed by the law of supply and demand. It is ironic that the public is conditioned to believe that the imposed war on drug or terror and throwing money at these and any problems is going to solve those problems when in fact it aggravates them.

Charity begins at home and we should not expect to solve the production and flow of narcotics  in Afganistan as long as we are unable to lick that prolem across our border with Mexico. America with about 5% of the world population uses about 50% of its illicit drugs in search of happiness and a meaningful life that is denied to its pubic by faulty public education system that renders them insensitive to what is going on in America and in the world. Therefore, it is naive to think that we can solve the drug problem by sealing Iran-Afgan border(if ever possible) for profiteers in the West and East will always find alternate routes. Kurush has done an excellent job of providing references on the history of drug abuse in the world as a tool to exploit the public.

We need war on ignorance instead of war on drug or terror that is bankrupting not only America, but the whole world for that matter.




















































Veneer of Words...

by Kurush (not verified) on

'convergence... when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan..', 'American interest in shipment of ...reconnaissance and communications hardware to areas of Iran...', '...starving the Taliban...' I must say the author has figured it all out, except he refrains to produce the blueprint he has tucked away somehere about the roadmap to the complete takover of the Iran's government by the Americans. Please, sir, produce your blueprint & enlighten us of the wisdom therein! So what is the real goal of American imperialists at this moment in America's history? To stablize America's conquests in Iraq and Afghanistan and mop up the patriotic resistance of our brothers and sister in Iraq & Afghanistan still stubbornly defying American imperialism. We Iranians have no right to negotiate the destiny of these two tragic nations with the tyrants in Washington DC. Truely, sir, how do you allow yourself to assign the same role to Iran vis-a-vis the Iraqis and Afghanis that the Russians and British assumed vis-a-vis Iran under the Qajars? Have you not heard of the inalieanble rights of sovereign nations to determine their own destiny free form external coercion? The Taliban that must be 'starved' are the Pathans/pashtuns who comprise 50% of Afghan population. Do you propose to starve half of Afghanistan's population, sir? It was the Pashtuns who resisted three British invasions of their homeland in 1838, 1878, 1919. Then, those pathans who approached the advancing British soldiers and slit their throats, even in the hail of bullets, were called the Talibans. Later, they faced down the Soviet bear and the American invaders. Frankly, the two of us, you and I, measure too cowardly in comparison with these brave & tragic people in Afganistan who, due to no fault of their own, have had to fight invasions after invasions of their homeland. The opium trade has prospered as it did in the Opium Wars against the Chinese in 19th century, and in Indochina under the Western occupation, and now in Afganistan, thanks to the West's deep collusion and connivance. I suggest you read the history of the Opium wars (1838 & 1858) to enlighten yourself. As to stationing American hardware on Iran's borders, you just brought smile to neo-cons faces. They thank you, sir. Iran's message to the West must be unambiguous: leave the Persian Gulf, leave Iraq & Afghanistan unconditionally, then we may discuss our areas of interests.


Cutting out the middle men

by Fred on

You say:

“Following Obama's video message, extending a hand directly to the powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would appear to circumvent the democratically elected parliament and president.”

Besides the inherent contradiction in this statement of yours, that there is a President and a Leader above the president, you are certifying the Islamist republic’s presidential process with multi layered filters as democratic and its president “democratically elected”. If that is the case please explain the provision 10 of article 110 of your Islamist republic’s constitution in which the unelected Leader has the sole right to dismiss the “elected” president at will. What sort of democracy gives one unelected lifetime absolute leader the powers enshrined in article 110?

You then say:

 “The best option is to dispatch the message with an American congressional delegation in an attempt at a dialogue between elective bodies.”
Again please explain what would be the use of sending an American congressional delegation to Iran to meet with as you would want others to believe their “elected” Islamist counterparts when experience says the Islamists are powerless window-dressing. 

 During your “reformist “Khatami that you were actively supporting, the Islamist social club, Majlis,  tried to review a press law and when the Leader wrote them a two line note ordering them to forget it they never talked about it again, so much for your “elected” body.
Lets cut out the charade, the Islamist republic is the dominion of the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Anyone who wants to deal with the Islamist republic has to cut out the middle men and directly deal with its absolute ruler.