Re-establishing a U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran: Advancing US National Security and Serving American Citizens

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Published on February 19, 2014

Author: atlanticcouncil


Re-establishing a U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran: Advancing U.S. National Security and Serving American Citizens Ramin Asgard February 2014

Historical Background 1979 1856 1944-1979 US and Iran establish bilateral ties Close ties/Alliance period 1944 Full diplomatic relations 2013 US Embassy Tehran seized, hostages taken 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution First direct bilateral contacts in 34 years 1980 Bilateral relations severed

Loss of U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran and its Impact on U.S. National Security LOST REPLACED WITH Ability to understand and successfully impact events in Iran, Middle East The State of Nature Foreign policy formulation and execution through/with Ambassador/Country Team On the Ground Lack of Locus of Policy Discipline

The American Foreign Policy Process INFORM & EXECUTE Embassy or other Diplomatic Post FORMULATE OVERSEE White House Congress INFLUENCE Media Thinktanks Ambassador/ Principal Officer LOCUS OF POLICY DISCIPLINE Country Team National Security Staff Foreign Affairs Agencies Senate Interest Groups Allies House Intermediaries Post Sections National Security Policy Committees Experts & Pundits

The Legacy of 1979 and the Iranian American community • Iranian Americans feel U.S.-Iran estrangement most acutely • No U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran makes their travel to Iran much more difficult and sometimes dangerous • Family members of Iranian Americans struggle to obtain visas to visit their family in U.S., even for major life events or emergencies • PAAIA polling indicates a strong majority of Iranian Americans favor re-establishing a US diplomatic presence in Iran, especially for consular services

Arguments for Reestablishing U.S. Diplomatic Presence In Iran NATIONAL SECURITY & SERVING AMERICAN CITIZENS • Engagement with Iranian Government on Bilateral Issues • Greatly Enhanced American Citizen Services • Immigrant & Nonimmigrant Visa Services • Public Affairs Activities • Political/Economic Reporting & Analysis

Arguments Against Re-establishing a U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran • “Rewarding Bad Behavior” • “Iranian Government Will Refuse” • “Unacceptable Security Risk” • “Betrayal of Iranian Opposition” Have these positions led to achieving US national security goals? Then perhaps time to change from State of Nature

The Current Context Offers a Historic Opportunity • Unprecedented Presidential and Foreign Minister/Secretary of State level engagement • Interim P5+1 agreement November 2013, implementation started in January 2014 • Negotiations, while difficult, continue to make progress • Re-established diplomatic presence would not set back, and in fact would bolster progress on nuclear negotiations and other bilateral and regional issues

Nuts & Bolts of Re-establishing U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran The Current Context: • U.S. Interests Section in Tehran administered through Swiss Embassy (very limited ACS and visa functions) • Iranian Interests Section in Washington administered through Pakistani Embassy (citizen services and visa functions) • Iranian Permanent Representative to United Nations in NY (can not travel beyond UN environs without DOS permission) • Iranians apply for US visas at US diplomatic posts in 3rd countries (UAE, Turkey, and Armenia) • State’s Virtual Embassy Tehran provides information, including consular information, online

A Tehran U.S. Interests Section with American Diplomats BASED UPON: US policy, State Department policy & procedures, Congressional oversight, and Iranian government policy STEPS REQUIRED: 1) Site visit to existing US Interests Section – security 2) Use and/or upgrade, or secure new facility 3) Foreign Service Officers, FS Specialists on TDY rotations 4) FS Officers & Specialists on PCS assignment, prob. unaccomp. 5) Security a paramount issue given legacy of 1979 - Iran must reaffirm adherence to Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations LATER, If conditions permit: US Liaison Office, US Embassy

Staffing Priorities for an Initial U.S. Diplomatic Presence in Iran • A Principal Officer to direct operations and serve as primary liaison with the Iranian government. • One or more Consular Officers to perform American Citizen Services and at least some visa services. • One or more Regional Security Officers to ensure security of the facilities and staff. • One or more Public Affairs Officers to support U.S.-Iran exchange programs and respond to media inquiries. • One or more Information Management Specialists to establish and maintain information networks. • One or more Management Officers to establish and maintain housing, shipping, property allocation, travel, and personnel functions. • One or more Political/Economic Officers to follow on the ground developments in Iran.

Lessons from U.S. Diplomatic History • History offers insights into process and reasons for reestablishing U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran. • • • • • Cuba Libya USSR Vietnam China • All these changes based upon same primary question: Was changing/maintaining diplomatic relations in the longterm national security interest of the United States?

The Legacy of the Hostage Crisis • Islamic Republic still commemorates the embassy seizure every November 4th. • Embassy seizure considered by many a foundational event of the Islamic Revolution, and the Islamic Republic. • This narrative, and reality on the ground must change to make U.S. diplomatic presence possible. How?: 1) Iran should end the annual commemoration on Nov. 4 2) Iranian government should quietly offer some form of compensation to individual hostages and their families 3) Iran must explicitly reaffirm Vienna Conventions to ensure these events never recur

Conclusion • Moving beyond past and re-establishing U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran at first limited, incremental, and reversible, is in the national security interest of the United States • This step enjoys the strong support of those American citizens most acutely impacted, the Iranian American community • If legacy of 1979 is addressed through concrete actions and agreements, even most American hostages would support • Based upon all points presented, would this step help achieve key national security goals and serve American citizens more effectively than past approaches?

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