Checking Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

By Henry Sokolski; Patrick Clawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

U.S.-IRANIAN STRATEGIC COOPERATION SINCE 1979

Geoffrey Kemp

U.S. attempts at strategic cooperation with Iran have evolved through a number of stages since the traumatic revolution of 1979. The first phase lasted through the 1980s and ended with the death of Khomeini in 1989. The second phase witnessed the Gulf War and the efforts by President Rafsanjani and, later, President Clinton to establish some sort of modus vivendi. However it was accompanied by harsher U.S. sanctions and strident anti-Israeli behavior and rhetoric from Iran. The third phase began with the surprise election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997 and the new hopes for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. It ended with the fall of Saddam Hussein. The current phase of the relationship will be dominated by postwar Iraq, Iran's continued support for terrorism and the advanced status of Iran's nuclear program. One way or another a climax to U.S.-Iranian relations is likely in the coming year or so.


Phase 1: 1979-89.

The first years of the revolution were dominated by the 14-month hostage crisis--November 1979-January 1981--precipitated when Iran, in violation of international law, took American diplomats into its custody in Tehran. Dramas of the hostage crisis had a profound and dramatic impact on American public opinion and politics. It was one of the key reasons President Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. Two months earlier, Iran was invaded by Iraq and the 8-year Iran-Iraq War began. Despite Saddam's aggression, the United States was quietly pleased to see the regime facing a new major threat and while the United States professed neutrality, there were expectations and hopes that Saddam's forces would topple the Ayatollah's new government.

Thus when the Reagan administration assumed office in January 1981, it had no interest in modifying the tough line policy towards

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