President Donald Trump is risking a potential war with Iran unless he engages the Islamist-led country using diplomacy, not just pressure tactics, dozens of prominent U.S. foreign policy, intelligence and national security figures argue in a new public statement.
The statement, released by a group calling itself the National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon, comes as Trump prepares to speak at the annual United Nations General Assembly. Iran is expected to be a hot topic during this week’s U.N. gathering of world leaders, many of whom are upset that Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
The statement, shared first with POLITICO, is unusual in that it acknowledges the legitimacy of Trump’s criticisms of Iran’s overall behavior, even as it pushes the president to rethink his strategy.
“Applying pressure and unilateral sanctions without viable diplomatic options … could lead to a more dangerous, destructive and enduring regional conflict with Iran,” argue the more than 50 people who signed the statement.
Among the signatories: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who served Republican and Democratic presidents; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served in the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton; and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who served the GOP White House of George W. Bush.
The letter offers tacit agreement with many of the Trump administration’s criticisms of Iran, whose government is a leading backer of terrorist groups and has links to militias well beyond its borders.
The signatories insist, however, that the administration’s goal of reining in Iran “can only be achieved through a strategy that is both multilateral — engaging close allies and other powers — and which combines pressure and diplomacy.”
The administration’s approach so far, which does not include diplomatic outreach of any significance, “has left Iran the option of either capitulation or war,” the statement declares.
Signers say Trump should re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, in part to get build international backing for moves aimed at reining in Iran’s non-nuclear activities.
The nuclear agreement, reached in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, gave Iran relief on sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Trump blasted the deal as being too narrow because it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, sponsorship of terrorism or other activities.
Trump quit the deal in May and has since been re-imposing sanctions on Iran. The U.S. also has laid out a list of demands on the regime in Tehran that require such drastic changes in its behavior that many analysts say it’s effectively a call for regime change.
Some opponents of Iran’s theocratic rulers, in and outside the U.S. government, believe that the regime in Tehran is weaker than it appears, and that sufficient pressure on the country through sanctions, support for dissidents and other actions could directly or indirectly lead to its collapse.
But those who signed on to the new statement assert that that belief “reflects wishful thinking and a flawed interpretation of intelligence about Iran’s vulnerability.”
“While Iran’s economy is under increasing stress and there are many signs of discontent among its population, the regime remains strong, well-armed and united against outside threat,” they say.
The statement also draws on recent U.S. history to warn against over-confidence.
“The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq remains a striking reminder of our inability to estimate accurately the long-term impact of U.S. actions,” it reads.