February 6, 2014, Washington, D.C. – On February 19th, the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council will be holding a panel discussion on the pros and cons of opening a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran staffed by American diplomats. The discussion surrounds the upcoming release of a new report published by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and written by the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force member, Ramin Asgard, titled “Establishing an American-Staffed Interests Section in Iran: Advancing U.S. National Security and Serving American Citizens.“
The idea of establishing a U.S. Interests Section in Iran was first considered by the George W. Bush administration and had the support of then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. An interest section would be responsible for protecting America’s interests in Iran. It would not, however, be equivalent to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
The panel discussion will include author Ramin Asgard, an independent expert on Iran and former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, John Limbert, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and former U.S. hostage in Tehran, and Morad Ghorban, PAAIA’s Director of Government Affairs and Policy. The discussion will be moderated by Barbara Slavin, Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.
Thirty-four years after the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Iran in the throes of the hostage crisis, U.S.-Iran relations are improving as a result of successful negotiations on an interim nuclear agreement. In his report, Asgard argues that an official presence in Iran through a U.S. Interests Section is in the national security interest of the United States, and now is the time to seek the return of American diplomats to Tehran. The proposed Interests Section would process visas for Iranians, provide services to Americans and dual nationals, and facilitate academic and cultural exchanges between Iranians and Americans. It would allow for direct contact between officials of the United States and ordinary Iranian citizens for the first time since 1979. The panelists will explore the short- and long-term implications of re-establishing a US diplomatic presence in Iran.
A 2011 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans by PAAIA shows that a large majority (73%) of those surveyed support the establishment of U.S. Interests Section in Iran that would provide consular services and issue visas but would not constitute the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 2013, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force, Chaired by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, recommended the opening of Interest Section in Tehran in a report titled Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran.
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