US-Iranian group calls on Obama to negotiate with Rouhani

Ex-policymakers urge US president to negotiate with Iranian president-elect; Moscow, Beijing block UN condemnation of Tehran’s missile tests.

Hassan Rohani 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi RH/CJF/AA)
Hassan Rohani 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi RH/CJF/AA)
The White House received a letter on Monday evening signed by 29 former US policymakers urging President Barack Obama to negotiate with Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani.
The letter was organized by the National Iranian American Council, sources told The Jerusalem Post. No former or current senior officials endorsed it.
AFP, which first reported on the letter, said it called on Obama to take advantage of a window of opportunity to settle the Iranian nuclear dispute through diplomatic means.
Meanwhile, a UN Security Council committee is split over whether Iran’s missile tests last year violated UN sanctions, Australia’s UN envoy said on Monday.
That division rules out any expansion of sanctions against Tehran over the tests for the time being, UN envoys said on condition of anonymity.
The ex-policy-makers said in the letter to Obama: “We strongly encourage your administration to seize the moment to pursue new multilateral and bilateral negotiations with Iran once Rouhani takes office and to avoid any provocative action that could narrow the window of opportunity for a more moderate policy out of Tehran,” according to AFP.
The former US officials said Rouhani’s election “presents a major potential opportunity,” and called on the US administration to make concessions on sanctions against the Iranian regime once Rouhani is inaugurated on August 3.
The National Iranian American Council’s most recent press release, on June 15, addressed the election of Rouhani and the skepticism that followed on Capitol Hill.
“The reaction of the United States and the West could make or break Rouhani and the reformists’ ability to push for change in Iran,” the group said. “Particularly, if the Obama administration and Congress persist in amplifying economic sanctions on Iran, it could undermine prospects of a deal before Rouhani is even inaugurated.”
Diplomats said it was Russia, backed by China, that refused to declare Tehran’s missile launches a violation of the UN restrictions, as a UN Panel of Experts on Iran said was the case.
The rift on the Iran sanctions committee, which consists of all 15 Security Council members, highlights the difficulties Western powers face in persuading Russia and China to join them in keeping up the pressure on Tehran to halt banned nuclear and missile work.
Iran says the UN sanctions against it are illegal and refuses to comply with them.
As long as the sanctions committee remains divided, it will be difficult for the Security Council to add names of any Iranian individuals or entities linked to the missile tests, Security Council diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Australia’s UN Ambassador Gary Quinlan, chairman of the Iran sanctions committee, told the council that “a number of committee members expressed the view... that the launches constituted a clear violation of [UN sanctions] and that therefore all member states should redouble their efforts to implement ballistic missile-related sanctions on Iran.
“At this stage some committee members cannot share this view,” he added in his latest three-month report to the council.
The tests involved the launch of Iranian Shahab missiles in July 2012 during the Great Prophet 7 military exercises.
“These included launches of the Shahab 1 and 3, Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Tondar missiles, as well as an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Khalij Fars,” the Iran Panel of Experts said in its May report to the Iran sanctions committee.
The panel said those exercises were conducted by the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Russia, diplomats said, led the dissenters in rejecting the view that the tests were a clear violation of UN sanctions.
A Russian delegate explained Moscow’s position to the Security Council, saying “hasty conclusions not based on facts must be avoided.”
A Chinese delegate reiterated Beijing’s stance: “We are not in favor of increased new pressure or new sanctions against Iran.”
US Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told reporters, “We’re disappointed that the [Iran sanctions] committee was unable in this case to state the obvious.”
“There is nothing ambiguous about the ban imposed by the Security Council on such... missile launches,” she said.
“Most of the Security Council members agree with us on this issue.”
Quinlan’s report also referred to arms embargo violations.
Western powers accuse Iran of supplying arms to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Islamist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Assad’s troops.
“Several committee members stated that the evidence presented in the report was sufficient to assert that Iran was in violation of its obligations, illustrating a pattern of sanctions evasion through arms smuggling in the Middle East,” his report said.
“Other committee members stated that the lack of stronger evidence as to the provenance of the arms, such as documentation, justified the lack of a definitive conclusion,” his report added.
Russia and China were the “other committee members” who opposed finding Tehran in clear violation of the UN ban on Iranian arms exports, council diplomats said.
Reuters contributed to this report.