Obama and Rouhani Should Talk More Often

Although the nuclear issue has priority in Kerry and Zarif’s mandates, the foreign ministers should also discuss other critical issues, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and extremism in the region. The key to success is to discuss areas of dispute while pressing ahead with practical measures on areas of mutual interest. During my tenure as Iranian ambassador to Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani held periodic phone conversations that had positive impacts on bilateral, regional and international issues. The Middle East is in turmoil and on the verge of regionwide sectarian and civil war. The United States, as a major international player, and Iran, as a major regional player, have historical responsibilities to bring about peace, stability and security to the Middle East and beyond.

Obama and Rouhani have the capacity for much-needed cooperation. They both must stay firm and focused, concentrating on creating the context for positive negotiations. Obama stating on Sept. 30 that “we take no options off the table, including military options” was poorly received in Tehran and raised unfortunate questions about the United States’ good faith in negotiating. The two presidents should have periodic phone conversations and approve routine meetings of their foreign ministers to consult on bilateral, regional and international issues. They must also recognize the necessity of engaging the other regional and international players, including Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt. In the process, it is imperative that they avoid the traps and negativity of the skeptics, in the United States, Iran and elsewhere, who remain stuck in the old thinking — full of distrust and recrimination and still invested in hostility and confrontation — and would therefore miss the opportunity presented to resolve the nuclear issue.

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“Obama and Rouhani Should Talk More Often,” Hossein Mousavian, Al-Monitor, October 3, 2013.