This brief summary of The Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force report "Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran," was prepared by co-chair Stu Eizenstat. Because of the difficult nature of the issues, not everyone on the Task Force agreed with all of these points, but these represent the consensus.

  1. 1. On the nuclear issue, the Iran Task Force starts from the proposition that a "nuclear armed Iran would have extraordinarily negative impacts on the United States, its European allies, Israel and the international system. It would mark a defeat for the West." The Obama Administration should lay out a step-by-step reciprocal and proportionate plan that trades graduated relief of sanctions for verifiable curbs on Iran’s nuclear program and verifiable assurances that Iran does not have undeclared nuclear materials and facilities. Iran also has to explain past and possibly ongoing work on weaponization.

The Task Force proposal would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium at a low level, provided confidence that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful. Iran must adhere to all UN Security Council Resolutions; fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at all their nuclear sites; and fully answer the probing questions presented by the IAEA.

If a negotiated agreement cannot be reached, Iran can expect more sanctions and cover action. Military force is a last resort, but remains an option to deter Iran from building nuclear weapons. Indeed, the Task Force report states that "The Obama Administration must ensure that this threat remains credible, as it may be the only course that deters Iran from deciding to build nuclear weapons."

Iran’s nuclear program began some 50 years ago. But now there is a genuine time urgency because of the progress Iran has made: "We are now approaching the point where Iran could easily ‘break out’ and enrich sufficient weapons grade material to build a nuclear weapon." This "could be reached this year."

  1.  Even as we try to solve the nuclear question, the U.S. and its allies should do what they can to alleviate the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iranians, without diluting their effectiveness in denying funds to pursue their nuclear program. In October 2012, the U.S. Treasury (OFAC) issued new rules that permit U.S. companies to sell most basic medicines, medical supplies, and certain other humanitarian items. To facilitate these sales, including food, OFAC should designate one or two U.S., third country, or Iranian banks that would be permitted to help finance these transactions. This will build goodwill with the Iranian people; make it harder for the Iranian regime to blame the U.S. for their own inability to meet the needs of their citizens and to avoid responsibility for bringing the sanctions on themselves by refusing to abide by numerous U.S. Security Council Resolutions; and make it easier for our allies to continue to implement the tough sanctions regime, if they are needed over the long-term.
  2. The Obama Administration should remain deeply engaged in the Middle East as a whole, working to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and intensifying efforts to replace the Assad regime with a coherent and responsible alternative. The U.S. also needs to shore-up ties with Turkey and the Gulf States. President Obama’s recent trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan was a good step, and his mediation of the Israeli-Turkish dispute was also welcome. The Task Force did not advocate engaging Iran over Syria, where they are trying to prop-up the Assad regime, their only Arab ally in the Middle East, but it may be possible to work with Iran to stabilize Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO withdraw combat forces.
  3. To support engagement with the Iranian public, the Task Force observed that the U.S. needs some bureaucratic re-tooling. The State Department should restore the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, and create a “virtual” public affairs section to augment a “virtual” embassy that has been in operation for about a year. The U.S. should also seek Iranian approval to station American diplomats at a U.S. Interest Section in Tehran to process visas for Iranians traveling to the U.S. and to facilitate educational and cultural exchanges. Iran’s government may reject this request, but if so, the onus will be on them.

Further improvements in relations, including eventual normalization of relations will require the Iranian government to accept verifiable limits on its nuclear program, full cooperation with the IAEA, and discontinued support for terrorist activities.

  1. Ultimately, the decision about better relations with Iran is Iran’s: Will it live up to its international obligations, move away from nuclear ambitions and join the international community? Or will it descend even further into pariah status? As the Task Force concludes, “Real progress can only be achieved if the Iranian government is genuinely willing to live up to its international obligations, and move away from nuclear weapons ambitions.”