PAAIA’s Public Policy Panel on U.S. Policy toward Iran

paaia logoMay 3, 2012, Washington, D.C.  On Wednesday, May 3rd, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) held its inaugural Public Policy Panel, Assessing U.S. Policy on Iran. A service provided by the PAAIA Public Policy Center, the purpose of these ongoing panel discussions is  to educate and inform policy and lawmakers as well as the general public on the various issues impacting the Iranian American community in an accurate and balanced manner. These panel presentations also strive to educate the Iranian American community about policy and legislative issues under consideration and how we can have an impactful voice in these policy decisions.

Held at the University of California Washington Center, the Inaugural Panel was centered on the current state of U.S. – Iran relations, Iran’s role in the Middle East, and future prospects of American policy following the upcoming second round of P5+1 (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, France plus Germany) negotiations with Iran scheduled for late May 2012. The panelists included Dr. Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service; Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and Air Force Special Operations School; and Alireza Nader,  Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation.  The panel was moderated by Amir Bagherpour, Director of Research and Analysis at PAAIA.

For more than 30 years the United States has been locked in an impasse with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a policy of neither war nor peace. There have been instances where rapprochement has appeared possible, but so far, there has been no break-through .  What we see today is an evolution of the President Obama’s policy, a two track approach consisting of tough sanctions coupled with diplomatic efforts.  However, because the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to resist halting the enrichment of uranium under its controversial nuclear program, we now see the toughest sanctions imposed on Iran in the history of the Islamic Republic. Later this month in Baghdad,  Iran and the P5+1 countries are headed back to the negotiating table, a follow-up to the Istanbul talks held last month. In the meanwhile, Iran’s oil output has reached its lowest level in 20 years as a result of recent sanctions. The Panelists discussed these and the US and Iran’s potential reactions to the results of the upcoming meeting.

As the lead specialist on Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service, Dr. Katzman described the general view of the United States, particularly Congressional sentiments, about the impasse with Iran. He stated, “If the Iranians resolve the nuclear issue in the P5+1 negotiations in Baghdad, then members of Congress will move on to the next issue; but if things don’t get resolved we will see a ramping up of more legislation regarding Iran.”  He reminded the audience that the relationship between Iran and the U.S. had been positive for numerous decades and that there is much opportunity for the countries to begin a productive relationship again.

Based on his expertise in the political dynamics within Iran, Alireza Nader spoke about perspectives within Iran stating, “The Iranian population has lost confidence in the government’s economic abilities. We are at a point where the Iranian regime is worried about the economic consequences of its nuclear policy. This will be a key factor on their ability to negotiate with the Americans.”  Within the dialogue, Nader noted that the overall impression and reactions of the Iranian regime, especially individuals such as the Supreme Leader, will be important to the overall resolution of this issue and the timeline within which a solution, if any, is achieved. 

Responding to the comments made by his colleagues, Alex Vatanka focused his comments on the dynamics within the region and Iran’s role. He noted that  “the United States has a host of allies in the region whose concerns and interests it needs to consider as well.”  He noted that Iran’s role within the region is one of filling gaps and vacuums that either currently exist or are created as a result of unfolding events, such as the recent Revolution in Egypt.  He cautioned the audience to look at the multiple moving parts in the Region and not reach any conclusions based on the current status of affairs.

In addition, the panelists discussed why Iran would benefit from reaching an accord with the U.S. and the P5+ countries; however, there was disagreement about the reasons why such an agreement may or may not be reached. Clearly, reaching an agreement is not a simple matter for neither the United States nor Iran and requires an understanding and consideration of the different relationships that the countries have held over the years as well as the political, social, and economic situation in each country at this time.

The informative panel discussion lasted for approximately one hour and was followed by half an hour of questions from the audience. To view the video of this Panel Presentation, click here: 

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