AIC Statement in response to President Obama's speech at American University

AIC Statement
AIC Applauds the Spirit of Obama’s Speech, while criticizing his Threatening Language

Facing a Congress that is largely concerned about and skeptical of his signature foreign policy achievement, President Obama made the case for the Senate and House of Representatives to approve the Iran nuclear deal and lift sanctions at a major address at American University. The American Iranian Council applauds the spirit of Obama’s speech, calls on both the American and Iranian governments to use the deal as an opportunity to pivot toward negotiations on the broader relationship, and strongly objects to the president’s continued military threat against Iran, even when pushing for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute.

Echoing President John F. Kennedy’s historic speech promoting a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union at the same campus in 1963, Obama spoke eloquently about the need for diplomatic solutions, as well as the imperative to engage in diplomacy with adversaries. After arguing that the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), peacefully achieves America’s strategic goal of blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, the president addressed specific concerns that critics have articulated.

The criticism that Obama spent the most time addressing was the argument that the JCPOA is a bad deal for the US and that there is a better deal to be had. “Those making this argument are either ignorant of Iranian society, or they’re just not being straight with the American people,” he said. The president argued that sanctions alone are not going to force Iran to completely dismantle all vestiges of its nuclear infrastructure, and that the Iranian government, opposition, and even Iranian people would not accept what they would view as a total surrender of their sovereignty. He added that America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as Russia and China would not agree to continued enforcement of existing sanctions “according to the dictates of the US Congress.”

After addressing this and other common criticisms, Obama turned to the implications of the deal for Israel, acknowledging that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu disagree strongly, while adding that the prime minister is “wrong”. Addressing the Israeli people directly, Obama said “a nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.”

The American Iranian Council, the oldest think tank engaged in US-Iran relations, applauds the spirit of President Obama’s address, and urges members of Congress to support a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue, including sanctions relief for Iran. While we support the president’s initiative, we roundly reject his consistent military threat against Iran, often intimated by stating that “all options are on the table” and sometimes even explicitly articulated, such as in this speech. This inflammatory language is destructive to a relationship that is in need of healing and improvement, rather than further aggravation and degradation. His continued military threat is inconsistent with one of the core principles of the United Nations Charter, which states that, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Moreover, Obama’s rhetoric could, ironically, be used by his critics in the future as a pretext to initiate military action against Iran, something the AIC has fundamentally opposed since its foundation.

More importantly, the AIC has always maintained that the nuclear issue must not be dealt with in isolation, but that the broader relationship and the core issue of mistrust must be resolved in order for the nuclear deal to remain sustainable into the future. The JCPOA, if implemented dutifully by all parties, offers a rare opportunity to pivot from the nuclear file toward all issues in US-Iran relations, both where there is common interest as well as conflict. In order to normalize this relationship that has been strained for 36 years as well as produce a more peaceful Middle East, the US and Iran must use the negotiating table as a platform to compromise on regional security, Syria, Yemen, and other issues on which they disagree. Through diplomacy, they will likely find that they often have shared interests, such as the fight against ISIS, stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, ensuring the free flow of energy supplies, stemming drug trafficking in the region and other issues.

Through a peaceful, negotiated resolution and direct engagement with Iran, the United States has managed to achieve what years of isolation, coercion and sabotage could not. This historic achievement must now be used as the basis for pursuing the AIC’s mission for the past 25 years: a normalization of US-Iran relations.