Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Iran and the United States: An Insider's View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Iran and the United States: An Insider's View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace

Article excerpt

IRAN AND THE UNITED STATES: An Insider's View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace

Author: Seyed Hossein Mousavian with Shahir Shahidsaless

Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 2014, 368pp, US$35.


Since the termination of political ties between the United States and Iran in 1979 many scholarly efforts have been made to explain the reasons for the failure of reconciliation efforts between the two countries. This is because the termination significantly impacted the political map of the region and the balance of power amongst the major regional actors. The present book is a brilliant attempt to elaborate the position of Iran's government and the obstacles that have prevented the re-establishment of ties with the United States or the progress of any possible opportunity for re-normalisation of political ties.

In his book Mousavian, an Iranian career diplomat since the 1979 revolution, studies United States--Iran political relations in a historical context to identify the factors that have shaped the fate of many attempts for negotiations, including spoilers, ideological positions and the domestic politics of each country. He argues that mistrust between the parties is the core factor in the failure of many unofficial attempts conducted by moderate technocrats since 1980. Through a detailed historical account of the major events that have shaped Iran--US relations, Mousavian explains how mistrust developed as the dominant factor and then suggests ways through which the two countries could more positively interact. He acknowledges the difficult path to normalisation of relations but suggests that the benefits of dialogue for both countries supersede the cost that each has paid for the historical issues.

Rather than a literature-based book solely concentrating on secondary resources, Mousavian has produced one that combines scholarly literature as well as personal experience. Mousavian argues that for Iran's supreme leader and other politicians, particularly amongst the conservative factions, the United States' ultimate goal is regime change and replacement of the Islamic Republic with a puppet regime. On the other hand, the US administrations of the last three decades, while differing in policies and in some cases more lenient towards the resumption of political ties with Iran, all share a mistrust in Iran's sincerity. Mousavian, who has been either a member of Iran's nuclear negotiation team or their advisers since 2002, explains how mistrust between some political factions in both countries prevented any direct negotiating opportunity between the United States and Iran until the election of Rohani as president of Iran in 2013. It is this engrained mistrust that has doomed to failure any attempt at reconciliation even though Iran and the United States have co-operated in regional issues such as Afghanistan and, later, reconstruction of Iraq's political system. For Iranians, this mistrust, he suggests, is embedded in historical events such as the 1953 coup in Iran and the United States' unconditional support of the Pahlavi regime during the 1979 revolution.

Mistrust leads to misperception and mis-analysis. Mousavian notes that there is a lack of understanding of US domestic political dynamics in Iran and vice versa. Conservatives in Iran do not seek changes in the status quo, as they view the United States to be a declining power and adopt a more ideological position. The moderate technocrats also at times interpret the rhetoric of US presidents towards Iran as humiliating comments rather than a political rhetoric aimed at the domestic political environment. As the result of such mis-analysis, Iranian conservatives criticise the moderates for their confidence-building policies towards the West and view the US interest in the resumption of the relations as another plot against the Islamic Republic.

By explaining the existing conflict situation in the Middle East and progress in Iran's nuclear negotiations, Mousavian suggests that there is a necessity for direct negotiation based on various issues between the United States and Iran. …

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