Carol Giacomo makes the case for diplomatic engagement with Iran:
Meanwhile, Iran’s anti-American policies shouldn’t preclude bilateral engagement. Despite America’s waging more than a decade of war in Vietnam, relations with Hanoi today are flourishing. Even at the depths of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found ways to cooperate, including on arms control and human rights.
Next month will mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the revolution in Iran, and all this time later the U.S. and Iran still don’t have normal diplomatic relations. This is an extraordinary and unwarranted lapse in diplomatic ties with another state, and it is something that should have been corrected decades ago. Normalization with Vietnam happened within twenty years of the fall of Saigon, and U.S. recognition of the communist government in Beijing came less than thirty years after the Korean War armistice. The U.S. has been able to bury the hatchet with far worse regimes responsible for killing tens of thousands of Americans in open warfare, but it still hasn’t done so with Iran.
Because of the bizarre nature of our foreign policy debates, the idea of normalization with Iran remains as far-fetched as ever. One reason for this is the baleful influence of regional client states that thrive on U.S.-Iranian enmity, but another is the deeply misguided belief that diplomatic engagement confers some sort of approval or endorsement of the regime in question. Nothing could be less true. Diplomatic recognition is acknowledgment of political reality, and establishing normal ties with a state is an admission that their government isn’t going anywhere. The U.S. gives up nothing when it chooses to have normal relations with another state. On the contrary, our country stands to gain a great deal in terms of influence, knowledge, and regular channels for resolving disputes and incidents that may occur. Diplomatic engagement isn’t going to eliminate all conflicts, but it allows the U.S. to manage those conflicts and defuse tensions before they reach dangerous levels.
Giacomo spoke with John Limbert, one of the diplomats held hostage in Iran:
The United States and Iran are so hostile one wonders whether they will be enemies forever.
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” Mr. Limbert said in an interview. At 75, he remains fond of Iran and committed to helping Americans understand the country, but he finds the bilateral dynamic more dangerous than ever. “I think the best we can hope for is not to get into a war,” he said, setting a low if tragically realistic bar.
I fear that Limbert is right in the short term, but that makes normalization even more important. The more regular diplomatic channels that exist between the U.S. and Iran, the less likely it is that our governments will end up at war with one another. That won’t lead to an end to the hostility between our governments, but it will keep that hostility from making things even worse than they already are.
A first step for the U.S. in normalizing relations with Iran will be to reverse the Trump administration’s reimposition of nuclear sanctions and to rejoin the JCPOA. That won’t happen under the current administration, but it should be a priority for the next one. The nuclear deal created an opening for improved relations with Iran that Trump squandered, and it will be up to the next president to correct that failure.