July 30, 2019
As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.
The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy
The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.
Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord
Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.
The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap
Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.
Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations
Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.
The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels
The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel with Iran to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high.
The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy
To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.
Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf
The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.
U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War
Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.
Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge
Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan
Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame
Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation
John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University
Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland
Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University
Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA
Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome
Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA
Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners, a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region
Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985)
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University
Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma
Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative
John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago
François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran
Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs -Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University.
Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University
Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel.
Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution
Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs
John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World
Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
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