Reza Marashi: “Obama and Iran: What Now?”

Washington, D.C.- Reza Marashi—Research Director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC)—has a knowledgeable, clear and warm way of explaining complex things. How is that? “Well, this is the favorite part of my job”, he explains as Zorba’s session on Iran and the U.S. starts.

Reza has an impressive resume, which is somehow at odds with his youthful looks. He has served at the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, worked at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), been a private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk, frequently been consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters, and contributed to a long list of prestigious publications and broadcast outlets.  To sum up: he knows very well what he is talking about while still managing to look not a day over 35.

Our guest decided to approach the subject of his presentation by chronologically explaining how the Iran – U.S. relationship has unfolded during the time president Obama has been in office.  After all, Obama has been the first president since Carter “to take chances with Iran; to try to shift the paradigm.”  Soon after a first policy review was conducted by his administration, though, the new and more diplomatically engaging policy towards Iran was watered down by different allies and stakeholders around the world. Not the most desirable beginning, but still a good one as one of the key objectives, which has been reached according to Reza, was to further isolate Iran internationally. The U.S. has been partially successful in this endeavor because of three main reasons: it dropped pre-conditions for negotiating with Iran; Obama has improved the image of the U.S. internationally; and the U.S. assured Iran that regime-change was not the underlying goal of the negotiations.  Thus, Iran had little excuses left not to engage in diplomatic talks—and the international community realized that.

However, the Iranian government’s human rights violations of June 2009 stall the process from the very beginning.  Since October 2009 to December 2011, three attempts to adopt confidence building measures to eventually reach a non-proliferation covenant were undertaken: the compromise agreed upon at the meeting in Switzerland was later on dismissed by Iran; subsequently, the U.S. was neither able to accept a deal struck by presidents Lula and Erdogan; and at the third meeting in Istanbul bargaining positions were too far apart due to particular political constraints.

Nonetheless, in 2012 two new factors that revived hopes came into the equation: the different international rounds of sanctions start to remarkably increase the pressure on Iran, and the regime undergoes certain key internal political changes—i.e. Khamenei takes over Ahmadinejad in leading any negotiation on the non-proliferation issue.  Thus, three new meetings take place.  Whereas the first one gives everybody hope that an agreement might be at reach, the second and, especially, the third show that neither part would be able to compromise before the U.S. presidential elections.

In a nutshell, our guest concluded, both sides are waiting to see the result of the U.S. elections, and both understand the importance of keeping the diplomatic negotiations alive, even if a deal has not yet been reached.  The conflict, Reza added, is geopolitical in nature, which means diplomacy is the right way to move forward.

In the second half of the session, a round of questions and answers allowed Reza Marashi to elaborate on several issues that play a fundamental part in finding a viable solution, such as Israel’s role, calculating the time Iran still needs to develop full nuclear capacity, the different approaches Romney and Obama may choose moving forward, and even how Russia and China may influence the process.

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