Iran’s Options

Berlin -- With President Bush in Europe getting EU leaders to agree to toughen UN sanctions against Iran, and with the ongoing debate between John McCain and Barack Obama about whether the US needs to talk with Iran’s rulers, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program is heating up.  Iranians, no surprise, are watching this debate with interest.  They need to do more than watch.

Iran’s political elite sees the United States, rather than Europe, as their appropriate international counterpart. Only the US can give the Islamic Republic the security guarantees it craves. The US, indeed, should be prepared to eventually give such guarantees if it wants Iran to stop the more suspicious parts of its nuclear program.  

But Iran must do its part to make any future dialogue with the US a success. In talks with members of Iran’s policy community, I am continually astounded that they see resolving the nuclear conflict (or, indeed, other problems in which Iran has a stake) to be primarily the responsibility of the US, Europe, and other major powers, not of Iran.

Such passivity is not in Iran’s interest.  As the Middle East’s essential regional player, Iran can trigger and heat up conflicts as well as contribute to their solution. Yet few in the Iranian establishment understand that being the leading regional power brings responsibility; and that only responsible behavior can create legitimacy and acceptance that Iran craves. Iranian policymakers must, therefore, try to develop their own ideas for a negotiated resolution of the nuclear and other regional security issues, as well as to think about how Iran can rebuild trust in its actions.