Magazine article USA TODAY

Reconnecting with Iran

Magazine article USA TODAY

Reconnecting with Iran

Article excerpt

THERE WAS A TIME when Iran was the best friend the U.S. had in the Middle East. Although the relationship was primarily strategic, focusing on the non-Arab state as a buttress against feared Arab military strength, there were numerous linkages between Americans and Iranians as well. Large numbers of Iranians were being educated in the U.S., and many professionals remained, often in medicine and mathematics, education and engineering. Iranians demonstrated an integrative capability in the U.S., interacting easily with Americans and blending into the culture well and quickly.

It is true that many of these same Iranians were connected with the regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Nevertheless, numerous Iranian immigrants to the U.S. now return to their homeland regularly and have learned to deal with the culture that has always underlain the Iranian state, whatever its nature. It is still their culture. Even with a relatively hostile regime in power, it is necessary to recognize the common roots of culture that ancient Persia had and modern Iran has with Europe and America. From the common origins in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to linked poetic literature to common references to Persian carpets and caviar, Iranian and European cultures have a history that far transcends the two decades of recent hostility.

Iran has the potential to be the most dynamic state in the Middle East again. With huge oil reserves (94,000,000,000 barrels--nine percent of the world's total) as well as the second largest deposit of natural gas (700 trillion cubic feet), it is capable of restructuring the world's available supplies of these fuels. Access would be critical for Asia as well as Europe and North America, and Iranian oil in the market would be likely to affect price as well as supply. American oil companies are lobbying for changes in the U.S. embargo in order to be able to participate in Iran's oil economy, where companies from France, Malaysia, and Russia already are active. Why should Washington handicap American firms again as it did in Vietnam?

Given the skills exhibited by Iranians in the U.S. and Europe, Iran also has great potential in technology-related industries, service fields, and, ultimately, the availability of venture capital. Out from under the constrictive grip of its conservative clerics and with its resources available to the market, Iran would develop quickly and spur development around it. The nation's population of 63,000,000 would be an important market for American services and products such as wheat and medicines.

Its large population and Iran's position give it strategic importance, both in the military and economic sense. It borders Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan; is just across the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman; has lengthy coastlines on the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea; and has some control of the Strait of Hormuz. As was discovered in recent negotiations and disputes over the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, Iran holds a critical position as a transit path between other oil-producing states and shipping lines to dependent markets. As an enemy, Iran makes both commerce and strategic access very difficult. As a friend, it could facilitate development, regional business, and cooperative alliances. …

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