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Panel including former U.S. officials urges Iran diplomacy

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — A panel that includes former U.S. officials and diplomats urged the Obama administration to intensify efforts to engage with Iran through diplomacy.

The Iran Project report in its executive summary said that an emphasis on pressure instead of diplomacy likely hindered the resolution of tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

"U.S. policies may have narrowed the options of dealing with Iran by hardening the regime’s resistance to pressure; contributed to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran; distorted trade patterns and encouraged the expansion of illegal markets in the region; and possibly contributed to sectarian tensions in the region by pushing an isolated Iran further toward dependence on its Shia allies," the report said.

"Sanctions-related hardships may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States. After 30 years of sanctioning and trying to isolate Iran, it seems doubtful that pressure alone will change the decisions of Iran’s leaders."

The panel called for a "strengthened diplomatic track that includes the promise of sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable cooperation."

Obama reached out to the Iranian government in his first year in office, but toughened his posture following the discovery in 2009 by Western intelligence agencies of a secret uranium enrichment site secured in mountains near the city of Qom.

Since then, Obama has said he is always ready to talk, but his emphasis has been more on diplomatic and economic pressure, including through sanctions and making clear that a military strike remained an option.

The tough criticism in the report was significant because a number of the signatories held positions under President Obama, including Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011; and Anne Marie Slaughter, who was the director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department during the same period.

Other signatories are veterans of previous Democratic and Republican administrations, and have been foreign policy leaders of both parties in Congress.

The Iran Project seeks to better relations between the United States and Iranian governments.

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