Academic journal article Hemispheres

Iran-US Relations: Learning from Experience, Marching toward Reconciliation

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Iran-US Relations: Learning from Experience, Marching toward Reconciliation

Article excerpt


With some success in the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, hopes have been raised that the US and Iran may be able to conclude a final nuclear deal and then build upon it to ultimately mend relations. While such hopes are noble and may not be too illusory, they can prove impossible to realize if the two sides fail to change their old paradigms and procedures moving forward. Assuming that the US and Iran can cultivate the political will for normal relations, the purpose of this paper is to assist the policy makers and others to realize the shift and prepare the ground for a realistic rapprochement. With this purpose and possibility in mind, the paper offers an overview of US-Iran relations including its historical development, difficulties in the relationship, imperatives for a better rapport, and remedial prescriptions.

The historical dynamics of the relationship suggest that the substantive difficulties are caused by the geostrategic and political environments, conflict of interests, misuse of power, and wrong policies. A sheer misunderstanding of substantive issues, inappropriate purpose and priority, and the inability to settle with a logical procedure to engage have been equally problematic. While issues in the relations are serious, they are all negotiable, with the exception of the Islamic Revolution and its theocratic state system. However, for better relations, the complicated transnational issues involved must be addressed holistically and multilaterally. To normalize the "abnormal" relations, I offer helpful procedural considerations, a guide for bypassing the theocracy, and advice for empowering the catalysts. It is my hope that the arguments in this review will assist policymakers on both sides to shift paradigms and procedures, better appreciate the mutual grievances and concerns, and devise aims and means that might more effectively help in normalizing relations.

From amity to enmity

U.S.-lran relations have gone through four more or less distinct periods in the last 150 years. The first period starts from the middle of the 19th century to 1953. This is the period when Imperial Britain along with Imperial Russia (before the October Revolution in 1917) were despised by the Iranian people for their interventions in Iranian affairs, while America in Iran was viewed favorably.1 During this time there was no enmity and Americans were considered helpful to Iran. In the early stages of this amity period there were very few interactions between the two, although there were ambassadors and missionaries on both sides beginning in 1860s. The relationship between Iran and the US in this period was largely based on humanitarian, educational and religious purposes rather than political or economic intents. Iran was the recipient of American "goodwill" with little to offer in return except for a heartfelt appreciation for American benevolence. This period officially began when Iran sent its first ambassador, Hajji Hossein-Gholi Noori, to Washington. He is often referred to as "Hajji Washington" for he occasionally held Islamic rituals in a western land that was oblivious to the ceremonies.2

In 1909, an American named Howard C. Baskerville, a graduate of Princeton University, was sent by his church to serve as a missionary teacher in Tabriz. He was shot by the Russians (or the Iranian government forces) who were fighting the Iranian Constitutionalists in the city. Baskerville continued to be remembered as a hero in Iran until the British-American coup against the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. In the 1920s, the Iranian government invited Americans, in increasing numbers, to help with the administrative work - mainly as economic administrators. Morgan Shuster is one such American but there were many even more prominent Americans such as S.G.W. Benjamin, Arthur Millspaugh and Arthur Upham Pope.3 Relations remained friendly between the two until the beginning of World War II, when the political-strategic environment changed. …

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