Global Governance | Analysis and New Insights

Why Selective Engagement? Iranian and Western Interests Are Closer Than You Think

Riccardo Redaelli | June 2008


Post-9/11 events in the Middle East have strengthened Iran’s geopolitical and strategic role. The containment of Iran is an unrealistic solution, given that coercive isolation has only fostered a more radical and security-dominant domestic Iranian brand of politics.

Iran is not Ahmadinejad, and Iranian goals and aspirations cannot be confined to the nuclear file—as important as it might be. This brief argues for selective engagement, putting the nuclear file within a larger, regional geopolitical context. The United States and Iran have more pragmatic interests and converging strategic needs than are generally perceived: avoiding Iraqi and Afghan fragmentation; coordinating antidrug smuggling; and working on new, more sustainable security arrangements in the Gulf area to name a few.

It is in a time of rhetorical and ideological posturing that diplomacy and negotiations are most useful. By getting out of the “capitulate or escalate” framework, the United States could entertain a realistic agenda, including a detailed, reciprocal, step-by-step timing.

This Policy Brief reflects the ideas elaborated during years of research and track-2 activities at the Landau Network – Centro Volta (LNCV) of Como. I wish particularly thank its secretary General, Maurizio Martellini. Thanks also to Andrea Plebani for his comments on the first draft of this paper, as well as to several Iranian friends. I am personally very grateful to Nomi Bar-Yaacov for her useful and sharp comments, and for all the time she dedicated to my draft. Finally, thanks to Kathy Gockel, who incited me into writing this paper, notwithstanding all my other commitments.