The case for negotiating with Iran


Under the right conditions, which must include a hard-headed approach and tough actions to check Iran’s ambitions, Washington can benefit from bringing Iran into multilateral forums where the United States and its partners have the opportunity to narrow differences, create rules of the road and solve problems, argues Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

Moreover, today we have little choice but to engage Iran on these broader issues, because no factor is shaping the order of the Middle East as much as the rivalry between Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, he writes for Politico:

This rivalry in turn is fanning sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East, and increasingly, parts of Asia and Africa. And the wider chaos that has ensued continues to exact costs on our part of the world, as seen in terrorist attacks from San Bernardino to Brussels……The conflict between Iran and its neighbors is doubly worrisome because of what it portends for the state system of the Middle East. Underlying the motives of Shiite and Sunni sectarians alike is a desire to re-litigate the legitimacy of borders and lines of control in the region.

“In multiethnic and multiconfessional states, sectarian groups are looking nostalgically to the legacies and traditions of pre-Westphalian empires,” adds Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “And as states fragment into ungoverned spaces, terrorist groups like the Islamic State are regrouping, waging attacks and creating massive humanitarian crises that are driving refugees around the world.”


This piece is adapted from his book, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World, just out from St. Martin’s Press.

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