1 Oct. 2013: Iranian–US engagement should focus on more than the nuclear issue
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s appearance at the UN General Assembly last week, his historic telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama and the earlier meeting between the Iranian and US foreign ministers confirm the two countries’ efforts to seriously re-engage in dialogue on Iran's nuclear programme. However, the two countries should not ignore the other issues on which they can fruitfully cooperate, writes SIPRI’s Bruce Koepke.
Rouhani has maintained a tone of constructive engagement with the USA within his overall framework of moderation since his election victory in June. In an address to a US audience on 27 September, he reiterated that the Iranian Government is ‘committed not to work towards developing and producing [a] nuclear bomb’ and ‘that the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are contrary to the Islamic norms’.
The predominance of Iran’s nuclear programme as the priority topic in Iranian–US relations reflects the fact that the Iranian Government needs to take concrete steps to address international concerns about the scope and nature of that programme in order to pave the way for a gradual lifting of international sanctions.
In light of these recent positive signs, it is important that the USA and Iran do not lose sight of other key areas that would also benefit from improved cooperation and which could contribute to broader security in Iran’s neighbourhood.
In particular, with the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Iran and the USA could cooperate constructively on the long-term stabilization of Afghanistan to prevent a recurrence of civil war and return of radicalized insurgents and to support the establishment of a viable security mechanism in the region. Constructive bilateral engagement on Afghanistan would undoubtedly also be a confidence-building measure that could in turn facilitate discussions on a tangible resolution of the historical standoff between Iran and the USA.
For further insights see Bruce Koepke's most recent report, Iran's Policy on Afghanistan: The Evolution of Strategic Pragmatism.
Dr Bruce Koepke (Australia/Germany) is a Senior Researcher with SIPRI's Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme.