Trust, not sanctions, will break deadlock
If past experience with authoritarian regimes is any guide, new sanctions on Iran will not succeed in curbing its nuclear power development and will, instead, strengthen the hardliners in government. Much more can be gained by improving the relationship between US and Iranian citizens.
There is widespread suspicion that Iran's possession of a nuclear bomb may initiate an arms race in the Middle East. However, what is now an open secret - Israel's possession of nuclear weapons - has not ignited such a race.
US President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated the danger represented by nuclear weapons falling into terrorists' hands, thus suggesting the need to curb Iran's development of a nuclear weapon. However, Pakistan is a far more serious danger in that regard, since it has a very unstable government and al-Qaeda is already present in that country.
It is a common experience that countries behave like people. If a person is threatened and coerced by an infinitely more powerful adversary, the only way for that person to react is to become more fearful and find extreme ways of defending itself against the menace.
Three decades of sanctions against Iran have proved to be ineffective. Why are they going to be effective now, when the Iranian regime is more determined than ever to pursue its own road to nuclear development? Sanctions will also not stop the Iranian regime's abuse of its own people.
According to Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, foreign governments that want to support the democratic movement in Iran should adopt a policy of active neutrality. As he recently stated: 'Sanctions will be counterproductive because the threat of international crisis is the Iranian regime's only remaining resource for legitimising its despotic power.'
Moreover, at the time that the United States was working for harsher sanctions, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, announced that the International Atomic Energy Agency had responded positively to the latest proposals negotiated by Brazil and Turkey.
History has shown that demonising people only fosters hate between countries. We fear what we know, but we fear even more what we don't know. Parallel to efforts on the diplomatic front, real dialogue between both countries should be actively fostered through an exchange of artists, scientists, writers and religious figures. In February 2008, the New York Philharmonic gave a concert in Pyongyang. Why can't it do the same in Tehran, for example?
Iran is an ancient country that has given the world outstanding artists and thinkers. Let's conduct an active exchange that will benefit both countries and diminish the atmosphere of confrontation and suspicion. Let's change a paradigm geared for war to one geared for peaceful coexistence. It would be a logical next step in brokering peace in that troubled region.
Dr Cesar Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on human rights and foreign affairs