hypothetical thaw (détente) in U.S.-Iran relations, an on-going dialogue on the force structure in the Gulf, some common denominators in terms of the proliferation of nuclear arms in the entire Middle East, and the use of persuasive diplomacy instead of compellence strategy by each power. To reach these goals, the Iranians would need to shun irrational rhetoric and admit that rapprochement with the United States is a supportable goal that would not jeopardize or diminish their national security. Indeed, Washington could do a lot to assuage the fears of Iran, i.e., adopt a less heavy-handed approach toward it, concentrate attention on areas of mutual interest in the region (e.g., the common need to contain a reasserted Russian hegemonism), reduce the size of its naval presence, and push for a genuine system of collective security in the troubled region.
On the Iranian part, what was needed was a strategy of "graduated response" that would respond positively to an American demarche and engage the United States and its allies in practical discussion on confidence-building measures, on the non-use of force in the region, and on the need to create linkages between the goal of autonomous security and intrusive power. Remaining steadfast on its post-1988 "charm offensive" and shedding its image as a "semi-external" power were two important facets of this policy of graduated response on Iran's part, which had put Iran and the United States at the foothills of a new détente by the time of Clinton's ascendancy to the White House in 1993. Yet, many barriers in the road towards a stable rapprochement between Iran and the United States remained, the net sum of which made it more likely that instead of a full rapprochement, the future of U.S.-Iran relations will remain largely conflictual. The only bright part of this pessimistic prognostication was the hope that the mere fear of this conflict would itself act as an effective inducement for a rapprochement.