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Iranian Thaw, American GRIT

My, how things change: a new president with fresh ideas, a global media blitz, and a captivating visit to the UN. I’m referring to Iran’s new President, Hasan Rouhani, by the way, not President Obama, although the latter may seize the moment. Mr. Rouhani is the face of what appears to be a new policy of negotiation and conciliation, an Iranian thaw. Is Iran’s shift a sincere gesture to begin a new era or a cunning ruse to distract from a malevolent nuclear program and other mischief in the Middle East? Who knows, really, but here’s what I do know. This moment is an opportunity for constructive engagement with Iran, an emerging economy with more than 75 million consumers, many of whom are very well educated, have deep ties to the US and Europe, and who crave to be part of the global community – and all the services, products, and privileges that participation entails.

Skeptics and hard-liners on both sides may bully their way to ensure the status quo of mutually assured demonization, which historians would remember as a missed opportunity – or worse. I would suggest that an acceptable, non-threatening step forward could start with GRIT: Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension reduction. GRIT was  introduced by Charles Osgood, during the escalation of the Cold War. The idea requires adversaries to negotiate specific behavior-changes, in their mutually shared interests. Clear, measurable and agreed-upon outcomes are required; they must be verifiable; they must have timelines; they may start “small”. Successes (and sometimes failures) are revisited; new initiatives are discussed and new agreements are set and so on – gradually and with reciprocation.

Nuclear projects and trade sanctions of course would be in the mix for negotiated behavior-change; academic and cultural exchanges also could be part of the mix. Trade and other commercial activities inevitably should be key ingredients of GRIT, and ultimately are vital to the broader mutual interest of sustainable peace and prosperity. Indeed, all parties should remember that it is better to trade bushels and brands, than bullets and bombs. While that maxim may be a cliché, it remains true.

An isolated, xenophobic and angry Iran is not in anyone’s long-term, best interest. This Iranian thaw is a wonderful opportunity for constructive engagement, even if it includes elements of deception and disingenuousness. American GRIT could jump-start a positive new era. Carpe diem.

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