Rose G. on U.S.-Russian Iran Coop

In the fresh issue of _Pro et Contra_, Rose Gottemoeller has an amazing article that explores possible avenues for engagement between Russia and the United States on Iran. Not that my bias matters, but I wholeheartedly agree with Rose’s interpretation of Russian policy on Iran and do see that a reintroduction of the “Angarsk proposal”: to the Iranians might prove useful.

I wanted to highlight the article -because I nodded in agreement about a million times while reading it- because it argues that the 1972 “*Agreement Between the Government of The United States of America and the Government of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas*”: (INCSEA) could prove to be a useful venue for U.S.-Russian joint efforts to engage the Iranians and, as such, would also serve to buttress U.S.-Russian relations.

INCSEA regulates dangerous maneuvers at sea and restricts other forms of harassment such as shining search lights onto the bridges of vessels, or shooting flares at them. It also provides for increased communication at sea—including advanced notification of naval exercises, and regular consultations and information exchanges between the navies.

*Naval incidents have been precisely an area of sharp tension between the United States and Iran for many years, in the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz*. In January 2008, for example, U.S. media reported that Iranian speed boats were threatening to ram U.S. naval vessels, and were even moving toward them at high speed. The United States has not been alone in tangling with the Iranian navy. The previous year, the Iranians went so far as to seize the crew of a British naval vessel, holding them for nearly a week before their release.

Because naval incidents provide so much in the way of publicity for the Iranian regime, *the Iranians may have no interest in engaging in an “incidents at sea” negotiation*. However, they might be interested, in the first instance, in *understanding* how the United States and Russia have been able to cooperate in this area. The U.S. and Russia could develop a joint briefing based on the history of the agreement’s implementation, emphasizing each of the categories covered—dangerous maneuvers, harassment, pre-notification of actions at sea, and information exchanges. They could also *talk about the procedures developed for implementation*, and in particular, the *routine process of annual review*.


With the Iranians, the *first incentive for joining the discussions might be the legitimizing function of engagement with high-level interlocutors*, the United States and Russia. In the end, however, the *common-sense, low-key approach of the agreement might also prove attractive*, leading to a negotiation that could have some real benefits to security in the Persian Gulf, raising confidence levels among all participants in the negotiations with Iran. Eventually, such negotiations, if they lead to an agreement, could have a broader impact on security in the region.

As far as the United States and Russia are concerned, the very fact that the *INCSEA agreement is such a routine success of Cold War diplomacy may enable both countries to use it as a mechanism for joint cooperation on Iran, despite the hangover from the summer war in Georgia*. The naval communities involved in implementing the agreement include a wealth of experience on both sides, including many senior retired naval officers who would make responsible and serious interlocutors with the Iranians.

Anyway, the article, titled “U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Iran: Aftermath of the Summer War in Georgia,” is really worth a read. “Check it out”: (I should note that this is one example of _good_ “out of the box”: thinking.)

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