Last week’s controversial uranium enrichment agreement among Iran, Turkey and Brazil, along with the subsequent decision from the P5+1 countries to push forward with sanctions, throws into stark relief the tendency for the U.S. and Iran to talk past each other, as the possibility for constructive dialogue slips further and further away.
In this context Georgetown University Professor and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Charles Kupchan’s article from last month’s Foreign Affairs, “Enemies into Friends,” continues to be relevant. Based on his new book expanding on this theme, Kupchan writes that sustained diplomatic dialogue on a series of issues, large and small, can over time settle complicated issues between rivals and adversaries.
Iran and North Korea, because of their nuclear programs, are particularly tough cases. Washington is justifiably intent on neutralizing the nuclear threats they pose. But both countries appear unwilling to give up their nuclear programs, which they deem necessary to maintain their security and bargaining leverage. The tightening of sanctions could help change the political calculus in Tehran and Pyongyang. Nonetheless, the logic of incrementalism would suggest that Washington should also pursue negotiations on a set of broader issues to help build the levels of mutual confidence needed to tackle the nuclear question. With Tehran, the United States could seek cooperation on Afghanistan, particularly on curbing the drug trade there, which flows into Iran. Washington could also discuss with Tehran the potential for a new security architecture in the Persian Gulf, which is of particular importance as U.S. forces prepare to exit Iraq. With Pyongyang, a dialogue on economic assistance, energy supplies, and the normalization of relations may help clear the way for a deal on North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kupchan is right to point out that breakthroughs with hostile countries often occur not as a result of threats or harsh measures alone, but as part of an ongoing and sometimes halting process that utilizes both carrots and sticks to advance our end goal, which in this case is a reduction of the nuclear threat from Iran.
Kupchan will be at the New America Foundation tomorrow for a discussion of his new book (RSVP here). The event will run from 12:15 pm-1:45 pm, and will also be webcast here at The Washington Note.
— Andrew Lebovich