US Dignitaries Urge Closer Tehran Ties

US Dignitaries Urge Closer Tehran Ties US Dignitaries Urge Closer Tehran Ties

With the first anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal fast approaching, a bipartisan group of US politicians, diplomats, military leaders and academics is calling for closer relations between the US and the Islamic Republic.

In a letter to US President Barack Obama shared with Politico, more than 75 high-profile signatories praised the July 14, 2015, nuclear accord and urged the president to bring the US and Iran closer.

Spearheaded by The Iran Project, a group dedicated to improving US-Iran relations, the letter's signatories include retired Democratic senators Tom Daschle, Mark Udall, Carl Levin and J. Bennett Johnston and former Republican senator, Nancy Kassebaum, as well as former Democratic representative, Lee Hamilton.

The list of signers also includes former Air Force chief of staff, General Merrill McPeak, and Nobel Prize winners Leon Cooper and Burton Richter.

"The US should develop policies that increase the chances of cooperation with Iran, minimize confrontation and influence Iran's actions in the region," the letter reads.

"We acknowledge that opportunities will be limited for testing Iran's willingness to work directly with the US due to the political uncertainties in both countries in the coming year, but engagement should be the US government's long-term goal."

The letter is part of a flurry of activity and discussion expected this week to mark Thursday's anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

***Institutional Structure

Outlined within the letter is a three-point plan that the signatories believe will create an "institutional structure" for ongoing communications between the US and Iran. Its suggestions include "emergency communications capability" between the two governments to avoid misunderstandings and escalation of conflicts, as well as a "regular and direct bilateral channel" between the US Treasury Department and the Central Bank of Iran to more easily address questions surrounding sanctions relief.

The letter stops short of calling on the president to reestablish diplomatic ties between the two nations, but does urge Obama to establish a "direct diplomatic channel at the deputy level" that will offer the next president a means by which to exert influence over Iran without the secretary of state and Iranian foreign minister having to communicate personally.

Even if such channels are created, there is no guarantee that the next president will be eager to use them. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has been loudly critical of the Iran nuclear deal and has pledged to tear it up if elected, a move that even some Republicans worry could alienate America's allies who also worked to negotiate the agreement.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton led a group of 47 GOP senators last year, warning in a letter to the Iranian government that any agreement could be revoked by the next president with "the stroke of a pen".

***Tehran's Reluctance

But to back away from Iran now, the Iran Project letter-writers said, would endanger US interests in the Middle East and potentially lead to further open conflict for America in the region.

The letter acknowledges the challenge presented by Tehran's reluctance to negotiate with the US beyond the nuclear deal and also urges the president to pair any warming of relations toward Iran with assurances of American commitment to allies in Israel and the Persian Gulf Arab nations.

Ultimately, the letter's authors argue that it is in America's interest to work more closely with Iran on issues where the two nations' interests intersect.

Despite the decades-long history of hostility between the US and Iran, the letter praises Obama and reminds him that "persevering patiently in pursuit of careful diplomacy can lead to progress."

"You have shown that well-conceived and tough-minded diplomacy can protect US national security interests," they wrote, addressing Obama directly. "Given the stakes, the US will need more, not less, engagement with Iran."