Video: PBS Tackles Iran, Myanmar and Other Thorny Issues in 'Great Decisions'

Asia Society's Suzanne DiMaggio says "there are some practical ways that the U.S. and Iran can begin cooperation" in this year's edition of Great Decisions, the eight-part PBS series produced by the Foreign Policy Association.

The series, narrated by Academy Award-nominated Lincoln actor David Strathairn, features top foreign policy experts discussing some of the greatest global challenges facing the United States. DiMaggio, Asia Society's Vice President of Global Policy Programs, appears in two episodes, discussing both problems related to Iran's nuclear development and ethnic strife and extreme poverty hindering reforms in Myanmar.

Here is what DiMaggio had to say on the issues:

Iran's Nuclear Capabilities

"The United States and Israel have made it clear that they cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran," DiMaggio says. "They’ve both designated that weaponization as a red line, and they’ve both indicated that containment is not an option. That leaves diplomacy on one end of the spectrum, and military action on the other. The Iranians know this."

However, economic sanctions are not having the desired effect at curbing Iran's nuclear activity, she says. "In order for the sanctions to really work, we need to have some traction on the engagement side, and we really don’t have that, so we see sanctions being ratcheted up almost weekly now," she says.

Rather than resort to military action, the United States can foster dialogue with Iran by discussing non-nuclear problems, states DiMaggio in the clip embedded above. Because Iran has expressed willingness to cooperate with the United States on issues in which both hold common interest, such as drug trafficking, "there are some practical ways that the U.S. and Iran can begin cooperation, and my feeling is that those areas where there is common interest are more likely to succeed than an area like the nuclear issue, where the views are so divergent." 

Myanmar's Reform Efforts

In another episode of the series discussing Myanmar's rapid changes, DiMaggio warns that ethnic strife could undo the reform efforts being made by the Myanmar government.

"Myanmar is a very ethnically diverse country," DiMaggio says. "There are about 135 different ethnicities. Many of the groups have been at war with the government. The government has brokered now about 10 ceasefires with various groups, one remains and they are working on that, so I think there is a general recognition that unless the government can really resolve these ethnic issues through a process of national reconciliation, many of the reforms that we’ve seen could actually come to a screeching halt or even reverse, so this is a big priority."

In addition, with a current per capita GDP of only about $1,200, Myanmar is in a situation DiMaggio describes as "dire poverty." She states that Myanmar must prioritize "democracy-friendly" and "human rights-friendly" economic development in order to achieve reform.

You can watch a trailer for "Myanmar in Transition" and the entire "Iran, Israel and the Bomb" episode below. For other Great Decisions episodes, visit the official website or check your local PBS listings.

For more on Iran, please check out upcoming Asia Society events featuring Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in New York, and University of Texas professor Eugene Gholz in Houston.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Liz Flora
Liz Flora is a contributor to Asia Blog. She has a master's degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University.