Center for Arms Control

Prominent Calls for Diplomacy with Iran

Updated June 9, 2008

U.S. MILITARY OFFICIALS

"Iran is not a suicide nation...I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon. I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear. War, in the state-to-state sense, in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it -- in my mind -- to every extent that we can."
Retired Army General John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command, Associated Press (September 17, 2007)

"Cannot the world's most powerful nation deign speak to the resentful and scheming regional power that is Iran? Can we not speak of the interests of others, work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region? Could not such a dialogue, properly conducted, begin a process that could, over time, help realign hardened attitudes and polarizing views within the region? And isn't it easier to undertake such a dialogue now, before more die, and more martyrs are created to feed extremist passions?"
Retired Army General Wesley Clark, Huffington Post (June 2, 2008)

"Nobody I've spoken to suggests that going to war with Iran is a good thing. The preferred path by far is the diplomatic path, keep working with the international community to bring the right sort of pressure to bear on the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, top U.S. Navy official in the Persian Gulf, ABC News (May 28, 2008)

"The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and its calls for regime change...A successful approach to Iran has to accommodate its security interests and ours. Neither a U.S. air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor a less effective Israeli one could do more than merely set back Iran's nuclear program. In either case, the United States would be held accountable and would have to pay the price resulting from likely Iranian reactions. These would almost certainly involve destabilizing the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a massive increase in its already high cost. The turmoil in the Middle East resulting from a preemptive attack on Iran would hurt America and eventually Israel, too. Given Iran's stated goals -- a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues -- a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield."
Zbigniew Brzezinski and Lt. General William Odom, Washington Post (May 26, 2008)

"I don't believe for a second President Bush wants a war with Iran. The situation with Iran is very complex. People sometimes portray it or try to portray it in very simplistic terms -- we're against Iran, we want to go to war with Iran, we want to be close to them...The reality is in international politics that [there are] many aspects to many of these situations, and I believe in our relationship with Iran we need to be strong and firm and convey the principles on which this country stands and upon which our policies are based. At the same time demonstrate a willingness and openness to engage in dialogue because there are certainly things we can find in common."
Admiral William Fallon (Ret. Navy), former head of U.S. Central Command, CNN (June 3, 2008)

"We should find ways through which we can bring countries to work together for the benefit of all...It is not a good idea to be in a state of war. We ought to try and to do our utmost to create different conditions...This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me which is not helpful and not useful."
Admiral William Fallon (Ret. Navy), former head of U.S. Central Command, Associated Press (September 23, 2007)

"You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work."
Lt. Col. Sam Gardiner (Ret. Air Force), U.S. Army National War College (December 2004)

"We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage...and then sit down and talk with them. If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us...My personal view would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth. I think that may be the one opening that creates some space."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Remarks to the Academy of American Diplomacy (May 14, 2008)

"Although we keep all options open with regards to Iran, we remain committed to a diplomatic solution."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Reuters (April 5, 2008)

"I am not arguing that that is where the next conflict occurs. And I would hope that in the future we could figure out a way to dialogue with them to figure out a way ahead. We've done that in the past with our enemies. We should be able to do that as well."
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (April 15, 2008)

U.S. ELECTED OFFICIALS

"Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called on the Bush administration to engage in direct talks with the Iranian regime in order to resolve the issue of Tehran's nuclear program. President Carter said he thought the best option was dialogue with Iran during an interview with Ha'aretz. He said if he had the opportunity to meet with the U.S. president and the Secretary of State, he would tell them to begin direct talks with the Iranians in order to dispel legitimate concerns. If these talks failed, then it would be necessary to use military force, but this point had still not been reached, Carter said."
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Haaretz (April 14, 2008)

"I believe we can better understand how to deal with an adversary such as Iran if we have some direct contact with them. I think that can give us valuable information and better leverage to hold over the Iranian regime. And if we ever must, with Congressional agreement, take drastic action, we should make clear to the world that we have exhausted every other possibility."
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Iran: No Military Action on Iran Without Congressional Authority (February 14, 2007)

"I believe now is the moment for a bold U.S. diplomatic move to begin direct official talks with Iranian officials. And I believe the Bush administration's insistence that we wait until Iran suspends its enrichment program is counterproductive. This policy has given Iran incentives to increase its enrichment capacity under ever more hostile conditions."
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), San Francisco Chronicle (February 6, 2008)

"Unless there is a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwilling to risk open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options. Now is the time for the United States to active consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran."
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Letter to President Bush (October 17, 2007)

"Direct negotiations may be the only means short of war that can persuade Iran to forgo its nuclear capability. Given that a nuclear Iran would menace Israel, drive oil prices up past today's record highs and possibly spark a regional arms race, shouldn't we be doing all we can to avoid that conflagration? Opponents of dialogue often quip that talking isn't a strategy. Walking away isn't a strategy, either...What might we achieve by talking with Iran? Some say our engagement to date has not been productive -- but a less half-hearted and less conditional approach might well break the stalemate. We won't know until we try...By engaging Iran, we reclaim the moral high ground -- no small feat. If Iran refuses to budge, we have new leverage to expose it as a threat whose bad intentions cannot be explained away. Those who say they take no option off the table should not put America in a straitjacket by denouncing diplomacy."
Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Washington Post (May 24, 2008)

"We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests."
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (June 4, 2008)

"I fear our policy towards Iran is a threat...We [should] have a more sensible policy, we talk to them and trade with them. We remove the sanctions...The height of the Cold War, and we won the Cold War, we didn't have to go a nuclear war. We won that by being strong by talking to the Soviets, we talked to Khrushchev. We have a lot more than Iran, Iran has none."
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), Face the Nation (November 11, 2007)

"A policy of trade and peace, and a willingness to use diplomacy, is far superior to the foreign policy that has evolved over the past 60 years."
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), Iran: The Next Neocon Target (April 5, 2006)

"A better approach would be for the United States to engage directly with the Iranians and to lead a global diplomatic offensive to prevent them from building nuclear weapons. We need tough, direct negotiations, not just with Iran but also with our allies, especially Russia, to get them to support us in presenting Iran with credible carrots and sticks."
Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM), Washington Post (February 24, 2007)

"I believe that these challenges may have a better opportunity of being resolved with a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Three decades of silence, broken only by a few whispers, which has categorized US-Iranian relations has not benefited either of our nations...However, the United States should be willing to negotiate directly with Iran. Success in diffusing the threat Iran poses will require multilateral assistance from other world powers, but our willingness to treat countries like Iran with respect could go a long way in disarming those nations militarily and diplomatically...Frankly, I think it's insulting to go to another person, or another country, and say 'we're not going to talk to you unless you agree to something in advance.' What we want them to do is to stop enriching uranium. That's the object of the talks. How can we insist on their agreeing to the object that we want as a precondition for having the talks?"
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Senate Committee on Homeland Security hearing (April 24, 2008)

In October of 2006, nineteen Congress members wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to pursue diplomacy, not military action, with Iran. They wrote: "We believe America's diplomats are the best in the world, and should be allowed to apply their talents to our conflict with Iran. We therefore respectfully urge you to begin the process of holding direct talks with Iran as soon as possible." The nineteen signatories were: Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), Ron Paul (R-TX), Vic Snyder (D-AR), John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. (R-NY), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN), David Price (D-NC), Jim Leach (R-IA), John Olver (D-MA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Joe Schwartz (R-MI), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Phil English (R-PA), C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID).

INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY

"The United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues."
Iraq Study Group report, led by former House Representative Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker II, Recommendation 9 (December 6, 2006)

"...To our mind the only approach that might work is the one approach George W. Bush and the neocons refuse to try: real diplomacy. Serious diplomatic engagement should include direct high-level negotiations with Iran to address all issues of mutual concern, covering, in addition to the nuclear issue, an end to Iranian opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process and to its support to groups using violence against the US and Israel in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Most important, the diplomatic track would need to offer Iran 'carrots' - positive incentives for moving down this path in addition to the implicit 'sticks' should the talks fail."
Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of JStreet and JStreet PAC, Haaretz (May 29, 2008)

"There are no good military options...When you're trying to stabilise Iraq and you've got this long border between Iran and Iraq, and you're trying to keep the Iranians from interfering in Iraq so you can get the Iraq government up and running, you shouldn't be picking a war with the Iranians. It just doesn't make any sense from a geopolitical standpoint."
James Carafano, Heritage Foundation, The Daily Times (January 24, 2005)

"The most important thing is not to militarily attack Iran, or to threaten to attack Iran militarily. Even the language of some of the candidates in the United States threatens Iran...Dialogue has to take place at three levels: at the level of people and civil society, among members of parliament of both countries, and by heads of government of both countries. And negotiations have to be direct and public."
Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Laureate, The Nation (April 29, 2008)

"As the Security Council made clear, the goal should be a comprehensive agreement 'for the development of relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect and the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of IranĀ“s nuclear programme.' This cooperation would include regional security, trade and investment, civil aviation, energy, telecommunications and agriculture. It is my belief that only through negotiations can confidence be created and a comprehensive and durable solution to the Iran question achieved. This would be good for Iran, good for the region and good for the world."
Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director, Statement to IAEA Board of Governors (March 3, 2008)

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