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Solving the Iranian puzzle through trade

Posted by alanmirs on August 13, 2011

By Roozbeh Aliabadi and David Karg, Global Growth Advisors – 08/11/11 10:11 AM ET

As two young Americans, we question the wisdom of how we have approached the Iranian issue. How do we reach a breakthrough if we limit ourselves to broadening sanctions or the threat of military strikes?

We have embarked on a downward slope in relations that has been bred by an ongoing cycle of mistrust between our countries’ political leaders. The tragic part of this historical antipathy is that it has hurt the ordinary citizens of both countries. How, then, can we break this cycle, or are we on an irreversible path toward confrontation?

Since we have not found a way to break the impasse over the nuclear issue, we believe the key to overcoming this stalemate is an economic solution, rather than a political one. Broadening sanctions will only marginalize the private sector of Iran. Instead, if we opened the lanes of trade to present the Iranian people with alternatives to our current policy, we will be benefiting each of our nations and break the barriers of miscommunication that has characterized our relations.

This approach will take imagination and a willingness to strip ourselves of preconceived notions that we may have of each other. Let’s look beyond the nuclear standoff for a moment and analyze the benefits that industries like our high-tech and alternative energy sector could bring. Here are a few examples:

The purported needs of nuclear power in Iran have arisen from a carbon-intensive economy that has ever-rising energy demands. So, what if American companies were able to present alternative fuel sources to rectify this need?  Right now in Riverside, California, Solar Trust of America is building the largest solar facility in the world that will produce a combined capacity of 1000 Megawatts, which equals the same total energy output of the Bushehr I nuclear reactor. Just think if that same project was replicated and placed right next to the reactor? Would there be as great of a need in Iran for nuclear power, then, if American solar energy projects were to dot the country’s landscape?

Or, consider this: GE is commissioned to provide the turbines for a state-of-the-art wind power facility outside of Manjil, a perfect location for this type of energy source. As a result, many American jobs will be created and, importantly, we will present Iran with an opportunity to take advantage of the best that America has to offer in technical expertise and product quality. Talk about “Imagination at Work.”

The benefits of this new détente with Iran should not be limited to providing alternative energy sources, alone.  Young Iranians are enamored with American technology and consumer brands.  Approximately 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and tapping into this potential group could provide a meaningful revenue boost to high-tech companies who wish to export such gadgets as smartphones and laptop computers.

Imagine the possibilities. A company such as Apple locates a brand new store right in the heart of bustling Tehran. A young engineering student is attracted by the store’s ultramodern, sleek design and decides to walk in.  He picks up the latest iPhone 5 and thinks of a way that the product could be made lighter, with longer lasting power. He then develops his battery concept further to produce a longer-lasting lithium ion based electric car which he takes to GM to advance the next generation of its  Volt series.   It seems a stretch, but it would be a huge missed opportunity should we not decide to tap into one of the best-educated and tech-savvy groups of young people in the world to better both of our societies.

Washington needs to start thinking more like Silicon Valley when it comes to foreign policy. Complex dilemmas like the Iranian puzzle require innovative policies. The next generation of diplomats should include entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, a forward-thinker removed from the bureaucracies inside the beltway that stifle the development of real solutions to critical problems. Maybe the next Secretary of State should be Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, who understands that technology can break the barriers to communication in seemingly disparate societies around the globe.

These innovators realize that in order to be a world leader in the 21st century, America must globalize technology. American businesses are seeking new markets to expand their operations, hire new workers, and reach consumers around the globe. Trade with Iran would ensure much-needed economic reforms in their country and contribute to the stability of the Greater Middle East.

In this global marketplace, we have no choice but to embrace more integration. China and Russia have taken advantage of the lack of western companies now in Iran due to sanctions and have snapped of strategic oil and gas contracts. If we wish to remain economically competitive with these emerging powers, we cannot shut our door to the world, no matter how politically tenuous our relations.

It is time to take a leap forward to a fresh, new generation of foreign policy decision-making. Young people in both America and Iran are tired of the old black-and-white dichotomies that have limited our potential.   America’s most prized export is our ability to innovate. The risk of keeping the status quo alive is further alienation followed by the unthinkable.

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