Track II Diplomacy
- In the absence of formal U.S.-Iran relations, which were severed in 1980 following the U.S. Embassy takeover, Americans and Iranians have held track II meetings to discuss contentious issues that divide their governments.
- “Track II” refers to unofficial interactions usually carried out by non-governmental actors with access to decision makers. In contrast, “track I” denotes diplomacy conducted by government officials.
- U.S.-Iran track II exchanges expanded under President Mohammad Khatami between 1997 and 2005, particularly during his second term. They provided the space to talk informally about issues that the two governments were not ready or able to address.
- But the impact on official policies was limited, largely due to the volatile environment between Tehran and Washington that impeded the transfer of track II results to track I.
- Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, Tehran has stepped back from track II, and opportunities for Americans to engage Iranians in informal settings have been limited.
- Serving as an informal forum to identify common interests, generate ideas, vet proposals and think though policy options.
- Providing reality checks that lead to the clarification of intentions and the correction of misperceptions.
- Communicating insights and analyses to key decision makers in Tehran and Washington.
- Forging important relationships over time, particularly between key Iranian advisors and officials and former U.S. officials/diplomats with access to American decision makers.
- Providing a reliable channel for unofficial communications on sensitive issues and during times of heightened tensions.
- After years of steady interactions, the future of U.S.-Iran track II diplomacy is in a state of flux. Valuable efforts are still underway, but it is not yet clear whether they can be sustained over time. In light of Iran’s power struggles, it is also unclear which individuals and organizations have the capacity or authority to carry out track II.
- But given tense relations between the governments of Iran and the United States, track II exchanges continue to be one of the few bridges that bring together Americans and Iranians for dialogue.
- If Tehran and Washington move toward formal talks, track II efforts are also likely to gain new traction. This is the optimal scenario, since track II diplomacy on its own is insufficient to address the decades of deep mistrust.
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