November 17, 2014, Washington, D.C. – On November 12th, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) held a congressional briefing to present the findings of its 2014 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans followed by a panel discussion on Iran. In attendance were more than fifty congressional staffers as well as representatives from the U.S. State Department.
The national poll, conducted by George Mason University, explores the attitudes and views of Iranian Americans relating to the recent nuclear negotiations, sanctions, and broader U.S. – Iran relations.
The survey results, presented by PAAIA’s Director of Government Affairs & Policy Morad Ghorban, show that Iranian Americans maintain close ties with the Iranian people and want to see an Iran that is democratic and respects human rights. In addition, survey results indicate that an overwhelming number of Iranian Americans would like to see a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute with Iran and a majority support President Obama’s handling of the issue.
Following the presentation, a panel of Iran experts discussed the regional implications of a nuclear deal with Iran, the internal dynamics within Iran’s ruling circle, and their prognosis for a potential deal by the November 24th deadline. Panelists included Alireza Nader, Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation and Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and at the Jamestown Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Barbara Slavin, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.
The panel discussion began with Vatanka’s analysis of the nuclear negotiations in the regional context with Iran’s Arab Sunni neighbors. Vatanka noted that Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned about an unfavorable deal with Iran, which could embolden Tehran to interfere in their domestic politics and tip the balance of power in the region. Vatanka suggested that the United States assure its Arab allies that it will protect their interests and will negotiate a settlement that will stave off nuclear proliferation in the region. He also reiterated that Iran’s regional adversaries will not cease to exist in the event of a deal and that Iran will have more to gain if it is able to reform its foreign policy pillars.
Alireza Nader gave his insight into the internal workings of the Islamic Republic’s strategy in the nuclear negotiations, noting that it was the international sanctions regime against Iran that has given it incentive to compromise on its nuclear program. He further noted that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, is more concerned about lifting U.N. and European sanctions than reestablishing ties with the United States.
When asked about his forecast for the outcome of the November 24th deadline, Nader gave three possible scenarios: First, the negotiations may collapse completely. In this case, one of two things will result. Either the United States will receive blame for the misstep and will have a hard time pushing additional sanctions, or Iran receives blame for a collapse of the negotiations and additional sanctions will likely be implemented. Nevertheless, Nader explained that all parties have made too much headway on the diplomatic track to allow the talks to fizzle completely and concluded that this scenario is unlikely. A second and more probable outcome is for the talks to be extended past the November 24th deadline. The final possible scenario is for an outline of a deal to be agreed upon by the deadline. In that case, the details will have to be tied up in the following months.
The panelists expressed the sense that a comprehensive nuclear agreement that effectively cuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and ensures that Iran’s nuclear program can only be used for peaceful purposes would be in the best interest of U.S. national security and prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. The panelists also agreed that the nuclear negotiations should not be held hostage to all the other problems the United States has with Iran. Those issues, rather, should be solved one step at a time.