The Next Cold War or Nuclear Alarmism? New book looks at Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran

The UN’s relationship with Iran is at an all time low; the IAEA’s recent nuclear inspections in the country were a failure; military conflict with Israel seems increasingly likely. Is the West heading towards a new Cold War with Iran, or is this simply alarmism? Should Obama have adopted the tougher approach? Trita Parsi answers these questions in his new book A Single Roll of the Dice, which provides the first objective assessment of the high-stakes diplomatic sparring between Washington and Tehran during Obama’s first term.

Today brings the news that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA – the UN’s nuclear agency) has declared its latest inspection visit to Iran a failure. According to the Guardian, the Iranian regime has blocked access to a key site suspected of hosting covert nuclear weapon research. This unfortunate news follows a series of alarming developments in the country’s diplomatic relationship with the outside world, including Iran’s recent threat to extend its oil embargo on Europe, and the deadly blasts in Thailand that have been pinned on Iranian ‘assassins’ targeting Israeli diplomats. With recent sources in Washington declaring that there is a “strong likelihood” Israel will attack Iran between April and June this year, there is increasing justification from politicians (although not from Obama, yet) for a military intervention from the US.

Rewind to January 2009, when Obama (still President Elect, having yet to be sworn in) talked about “a new approach” to dealing with Iran and that “engagement is the place to start.” Obama said he wanted to adopt “a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness on being willing to talk” to the Iranians. These remarks suggested a clear departure from the often pointed and deprecatory speech that continued between Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and President Bush.

Back in 2009 Obama’s diplomatic approach was seen as a breath of fresh air, but in light of recent developments, have these efforts failed? Was the Bush administration’s emphasis on military intervention, refusal to negotiate, and pursuit of regime change a better approach? How can the United States best address the ongoing turmoil in Tehran?

A Single Roll of the Dice by Trita Parsi (published this month) provides a definitive and comprehensive analysis of the Obama administration’s early diplomatic outreach to Iran and discusses the best way to move toward more positive relations between the two discordant states.

Parsi, a Middle East foreign policy expert with extensive Capitol Hill and United Nations experience, interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Brazil – including the top American and Iranian negotiators – for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, Parsi contends that diplomacy has not been fully tried. For various reasons, Obama’s diplomacy ended up being a single roll of the dice. It had to work either immediately or not at all. Persistence and perseverance are keys to any negotiation. Neither Iran nor the U.S. had them in 2009.

Perhaps in 2012, diplomatic persistance will prevail. For those interested in the background and context of America’s skirmishes (thankfully still verbal) with Iran, Parsi’s excellent book provides an illuminating account.

“With the eye of a Washington insider, Trita Parsi assembles all the pieces of this complex puzzle in an original and persuasive way. I am aware of no one who has subjected the Obama administration’s policy on Iran to this kind of sustained scrutiny. Parsi displays a nuanced understanding of the historical context and an exceptionally fine-tuned appreciation for the political conditions and vulnerabilities of both Iran and the United States.”–Gary Sick, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs

A Single Roll of the Dice

A Single Roll of the Dice

A Single Roll of the Dice is out now from Yale University Press.

Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and a former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In 2010 he received the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, and he is frequently consulted by Western and Asian governments on foreign policy matters.

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