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Interview: U.S. Lawmaker Discusses Letter Urging Reengagement With Iran On Nuclear Issue

U.S. Representative David Price (file photo)
More than 120 members of the U.S. Congress have signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to reengage Iran diplomatically over its nuclear program following the election of the Islamic republic's next president.

RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondent Fred Petrossians spoke to one of the co-authors of the letter, U.S. Representative David Price (Democrat-North Carolina), about what the election of Hassan Rohani as president represents and what the letter's authors expect to achieve.

RFE/RL: You have mentioned that "Iran has elected a president on a platform of moderation and reform, and history advises us to be cautious about the prospects for meaningful change." Could you explain what you mean by meaningful change and how can this change be meaningful enough to develop a new contact and relationship with Iran?

David Price:
The change that we are looking for is a serious negotiating posture on the part of Iran that will let Iran and the international community agree to forego the development of nuclear weapons and, of course, Iran has a great deal to gain from that in terms of normalized relationships with the rest of the world. But it is simply unacceptable to develop these nuclear weapons and that's the question that the election of the President[-elect Hassan Rohani] poses. He has a history of indicating some openness to diplomacy and on the nuclear question and so the point of our bi-partisan letter to the president is to encourage him and other negotiators to test that proposition to see what the possibilities might be for some kind of diplomatic breakthrough here."

RFE/RL: You also mention in the letter that "we must also be careful not to foreclose the possibility of such progress by taking "provocative actions." Could you explain if by "provocative actions" you mean increasing the sanctions or military threat?

No, we are open on the question of sanctions. The sanctions have been an important part of the effort to apply international pressure on Iran, but the sanctions are not themselves a diplomatic solution. The sanctions are a tool and need to be calibrated to respond to whatever actions Iran takes or fails to take. So our main point in saying is that we should not prematurely judge the new president [of Iran] or dismiss in advance the possibility of any constructive diplomatic efforts. We need to test to see what the possibility of such efforts might be.

RFE/RL: The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany) will probably resume in the fall, do you think a gesture from the United States in these negotiations is going to encourage Iranians to accept freezing nuclear enrichment?

Price: I don't know the answer to that question and don't think anyone does, except possibly the Iranians. We have to pursue diplomacy along with other measures and I don't see how we know the answer to the question about whether these talks can possibly succeed unless we try and I think in this kind of situation, even with very difficult adversaries, one does not ignore changes in leadership. On the contrary a change in leadership is an occasion for testing what the change might mean and what kind of progress can be made. Nations do this all the time, and I assume that's what our president is going to try to do, and in that sense, this bipartisan letter from the House of Representatives simply supports that, confirms that course of action.

RFE/RL: Do you support direct talks between Iran and the United States as the best way to find solutions for bilateral problems?

I don't have a judgment about that in advance. I think we need to be open to talks in all kinds of formats and if that means direct talks then that would be what it means but there does need to be some show of good faith on both sides, some show of seriousness on both sides. And we are looking for that from this new president of Iran. We need to look for them to see what the possibilities are. As our letter makes clear, we have no illusions about possible disappointments. We know that signs of moderation have not worked out in the past. We know that the new president himself has sent mixed signals on this issue, so we are not naive about this. At the same time, we're not cynical about it either, we want to make certain that any positive possibilities are fully exploited.