Should the US revise its foreign policy towards Iran? Two Columbia University scholars addressed the question the US government has struggled with for decades, both predicting little movement this election year. At a March 4th lecture at Columbia University, Professor Gary Sick, acting director of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs' Middle East Institute, and Professor Nasser Hadian, visiting scholar at Columbia's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, discussed Iran's past and present political climates and their effects on US-Iran foreign relations.
Although both professors discussed US foreign policy, Sick focused mostly on US-Iran relations, while Hadian concentrated on Iranian domestic affairs. Citing events such as the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran-Iraq War, Gulf War, and US unilateral sanctions against Iran, Sick emphasized their effects on the instability of US-Iran relations. "I have compared the US-Iran relationship to a teeter-totter," he said, "when one side is up, the other is down."
The professor stressed how the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the US presence in the region. "The US has become a Middle East power," he said, "We're no longer an observer. The US and Iran have a set of problems which have gone beyond the past. [They] are neighbors."
According to Sick, accusations of Iranian nuclear proliferation and support for terrorism are two divisive issues in US-Iran relations. He believes, however, that Afghanistan and Iraq are "two areas of convergence. The US and Iran share an interest in stability and peace in these countries."
Sick proposed the idea of a United Nations umbrella [committee] to provide means for the US and Iran to discuss regional and security issues.
Sick also suggested that Iran probably will not be an important issue in the upcoming US presidential elections. "Nobody gains points in discussing policy toward Iran," he said, "In a sense, the US right now, doesn't have Iran policy. We basically deal with Iran one way or another. We have no overarching strategic view."
Hadian discussed Iran's recent election and its foreign policy related implications. "The election in Iran was not free," he said, "Not fair. We cannot say [however] the election was not legal."
The professor deemed the winners of the election "transitional conservatives." He believes that these conservatives have an "illusion of knowledge." This group "is under the illusion that they know," he said, "but the depth of their knowledge is not very [good]. They are somewhat confused and confusing. To me the coming to power of this group is really a setback."
Hadian believes that in terms of foreign policy, the new Iranian government will not be forthcoming in their relationship with the US. He stated that the new government's top priority will be pursuing good relations with Islamic nations, maintaining the status quo with European nations, and improving relations with Asian countries.
"But in regard with the US," Hadian said, "They're going to be suspicious, cautious. They have to be sure of the result."
During a brief question and answer period, two speakers formed a consensus on the impact of the current situation in Iraq on US-Iran relations. "The US is not in a position to threaten Iran now," Hadian stated, "but that said, the US needs Iran for its potential influence in Iraq."
Sick agreed with Hadian's position but added his concern that "Iran may get too cocky. The fact that we're actually neighbors now hasn't been fully comprehended," he said, "You cannot be there in that neighborhood and function without each other."
The National Iranian American Council is a Washington, DC-based non-profit educational organization promoting Iranian-American participation in American civic and political life. For more information, please visit www.niacouncil.org, email NIAC at email@example.com or send a fax to 202-518-6187. NIAC is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization. All donations to NIAC are tax-deductible.
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