People in Iran and the United States are enthusiastically monitoring the headlines on the newspapers and the TV channels to see if a historic breakthrough between their countries will finally emerge at the critical juncture when the two rivals are expected to strike a deal over the decade-long controversy on Iran’s nuclear program and move toward a momentous normalization of bilateral relations.

After the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States met and greeted each other on the sidelines of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, and following the groundbreaking phone conversation between the presidents of the two countries in the final hours of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to New York on September 27, hopes were renewed that more than 3 decades of bitterness and contention can turn into a new era of cooperation and friendship.

The veteran American diplomat Thomas R. Pickering believes that the election of moderate politician Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president has created a unique possibility for Iran and the United States to put aside their differences and disputes and work toward a negotiated compromise over Iran’s nuclear program. He said in an exclusive interview with Iran Review that the people in American and Iran are asking their governments when they can have better and improved relations with each other. It’s now time to strike while the iron is hot.

Thomas Pickering is the former United States ambassador to UN. He served there from 1989 to 1992. He has also represented his country as ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan. The 81-year-old “career diplomat” has also served as the 17th Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs from 1997 to 2000. Pickering serves on the board of directors for CRDF Global and the American Iranian Council. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He last ambassadorial appointment was made by President Bill Clinton who designated him the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Ambassador Pickering took part in an exclusive phone interview with Iran Review and talked of the latest nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, the new thaw in the Iran-U.S. relations, the economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran and his aspirations for increased cooperation and collaboration between Iran and his country.

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Ambassador Thomas Pickering By: Kourosh Ziabari

October 22, 2013

The Questions:

1- In a televised message to the Iranian people in 2009, President Obama underlined his decisiveness for engaging in diplomatic efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis in a peaceful manner. However, he issued several war threats against Iran since then and talked of all the options being on the table. Why has he shifted his policy and rhetoric this way? Is he under pressure from the interest groups and certain lobbies?

2- So what do you think are the main reasons he has constantly talked of the possibility of launching a war against Iran, especially in the remarks he made in a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just after he held a phone conversation with the Iranian President Dr. Hassan Rouhani?

3- Don’t you think that President Obama’s calls for military actions against Iran and his famous statement that “all options are on the table” will impede President Rouhani’s efforts to reach out to the United States and take up détente and rapprochement with the West?

4- As you mentioned in one of your articles, the U.S. intelligence community and the UN atomic watchdog have confirmed that there’s no evidence of diversion in Iran’s nuclear activities, and at least in the current juncture, Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon. So, why doesn’t the international community accept this fact that Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons? If there are some concerns, how should they be removed and obviated? How should Iran make more confidence in the international community?

5- You know that there are certain grievances on both sides; both in the United States and Iran, there are people who complain about the animosities and acrimonies of the past and the marred history of the bilateral relations following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. How is it possible to put aside these grievances and find a solution for removing the differences and establishing normal ties?

6- Of course it’s possible to make progress in this path. But as you know, Israel has constantly asked the United States and its European allies to abandon diplomacy with Iran and increase the economic sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu has called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a “wolf in the sheep clothing”. Is Israel afraid of the reconstruction of Iran’s international position?

7- The government of President Rouhani has pledged to open up a new horizon of relations with the international community. Following his election as Iran’s President, tens of leaders from across the world, including the European leaders and statesmen sent congratulatory messages to him. Given his experience as a nuclear negotiator between 2003 and
2005, are you hopeful that Iran’s nuclear crisis will peacefully come to an end and be concluded?

8- If we look at the course of Iran’s international relations in the recent century, we see that Iran has not been a threat to any of its neighbors. So, it’s not far from reality to claim that Iran has been one of the most pacifist countries in one of the most turbulent regions of the world. Why should the United States be wary of such a country with a peaceful history and call for a coercive diplomacy to solve its differences with Iran?

9- Something which should be accepted before the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 can move forward is that both sides should put forward logical and reasonable proposals and at least make some kind of concessions through which we can be hopeful about getting out of the current stalemate and foresee an end to the confrontations and hostilities. What is your suggestion? What can be the possible concessions which the two sides need to make?

10- Well, you’ve spoken of the sanctions as a tool to make progress in the negotiations, but we should take into account that the sanctions have had humanitarian impacts in terms of preventing ordinary Iranian people from accessing foodstuff, medicine, medical equipments and as a result, the deterioration of their daily lives. What’s your viewpoint about the humanitarian aspect of the sanctions and the fact that some Iranians believe that the sanctions are violating their basic rights?

11- Right. Some of the suggestions you made in the recent article you’ve co-written with Prof. William Luers and Jim Walsh were realized in the recent weeks. One was that the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States conferred on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. The second was that the presidents of Iran and the United States held a brief phone conversation and before these two ones, we had the congratulatory message President Obama sent to his Iranian counterpart after his election. Can these events lead to the creation of some mutual trust between the two nations, obviate the misunderstandings and open up new horizons in the course of bilateral ties?

12- Once the nuclear controversy is resolved, it’s possible that Iran and the United States can sit at the negotiating table and discuss the other problems they have with each other in case of such issues as terrorism, the security of Afghanistan and Iraq. What are the main impediments in this way, what do the two countries need to do to pave the way for the betterment of the ties and how much time does it take for them to set off?

13- In terms of the expansion of bilateral ties between Iran and the United States, how do you evaluate the importance of cultural ties and exchanges? Iranian people have always complained that the U.S. media portray a biased an unrealistic image of Iran and show Iranians as uncultured and uncivilized people. How should the U.S. mainstream media correct this image? How should the two countries use culture and media as a tool for the improvement and reconstruction of mutual relations?

14- And for the final question, I would like to ask you, as a veteran diplomat, to send a message to the Iranian people. At this critical juncture that the possibility of a new beginning in the Iran-U.S. relations has emerged, what’s your message to the Iranian people?

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