Yesterday, I returned to Washington, D.C. after helping to organize a thought-provoking session on Iran jointly sponsored by the New America Foundation, Aspen Strategy Group, and Aspen Institute. The meeting lasted three hours and was intense.
I’ll be drafting a report for the meeting, which after review by the principals involved, will be made publicly available — but which will also help articulate the areas of investment — financial and intellectual — needed in generating options OTHER than bombing Iran or, alternatively, acquiescing to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
The comments in the report will not be attributed to any specific person — Chatham House rules — but the participants in this useful meeting, in which one prominent participant said “there was much heat — and yet some light” (which I take as both a compliment and as hopeful), included:
Harvard University’s and former Clinton administration Pentagon official ASHTON CARTER, General WESLEY CLARK, CSIS Senior Vice President and Aspen Strategy Group Director KURT CAMPBELL, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School Dean ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Newsweek International editor FAREED ZAKARIA,
Booz Allen Executive and former Bush administration Pentagon official DOV ZAKHEIM, Open Society Institute founder GEORGE SOROS, former Harvard University Kennedy School Dean and former Clinton Administration Chairman of the National Intelligence Council JOSEPH NYE, New York Times White House correspondent DAVID SANGER, College of William & Mary Associate Provost and former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department MITCHELL REISS,
National Journal columnist BRUCE STOKES, Armitage International executive and former Bush administration State Department official RANDALL SCHRIVER, Scowcroft Group Principal and former Pentagon official ARNOLD KANTER, U.S. News & World Report proprietor and Boston Properties CEO MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, New America Foundation Senior Fellow Geopolitics of Energy Initiative Director and former Bush administration National Security Council official FLYNT LEVERETT, New York Times columnist NICHOLAS KRISTOF, Institute for Near East Policy director and former Presidential envoy on Middle East affairs DENNIS ROSS,
Barbour Griffiths & Rogers President and former Bush administration National Security Council official ROBERT BLACKWILL, Aspen Institute President WALTER ISAACSON, New America Foundation foreign policy programs Director and Senior Fellow STEVEN CLEMONS, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff Director ANTONY BLINKEN, former Clinton Administration State Department Spokesman JAMES RUBIN, and some others.
Some will note that the gender balance was way off in this meeting and not to my preferences. However, at exactly the same time we were meeting, a session organized by former Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry of the “National Security Strategy Group” was taking place in Aspen which pulled away such participants as Albright Group Principal and former State Department Counselor WENDY SHERMAN and former State Department official and Brookings Senior Fellow SUSAN RICE.
I hope to solicit their views as well as some others in the evolution of a project we are hoping to launch on Iran, the Middle East, and proliferation challenges.
This group had a full diversity of views on how to approach the Iran nuclear question — and the single most important consensus that did seem to emerge from the discussion is that at some point in the not too distant future, President Bush will be handed a bleak, binary choice: either to authorize and launch an attack against Iran’s nuclear capacity and assets or to acquiesce. Developing other options is the challenge of the day — and those other options must be credible.
I will be writing more on the Iran issue in coming months, but I wanted to at least notify TWN readers that this meeting held in Aspen, Colorado occurred and accomplished the important objective of not only clarifying the competing paradigms that existed in serious policy circles regarding Iran — but that there are potential alternative negotiating strategies and policy courses that might give the President more than these two bleak options.
Strangely, a senior national security official whom I notified of this meeting counseled that while the topics I was promoting were “alluring”, they were also premature. The other point of consensus in the room of diverse political and policy players above is that considering the ultimate “unthinkables” on Iran today was not only “not premature” but was overdue.
— Steve Clemons