By Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Executive Editor of Iran Review
Two major political developments have taken place in the past few days which have increased optimism about a possible detente between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The first development was a recent letter written by 131 members of the United States House of Representatives to President Barack Obama reminding him of the necessity to use the opportunity offered by the election of Mr. Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president for the improvement of bilateral relations. The second development was a similar letter written by 39 former American and European officials, ambassadors and experts on the necessity to use this opportunity for better interaction and more efficient diplomacy with Iran.
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Of course, these developments do not actually mean that the prospects for the improvement of relations are totally positive. More than that, however, they have created a good feeling about the end of hostile policies which have been adopted against Iran without interruption and in the absence of any specific logical reason on a weekly or monthly basis both by the US Congress, and the White House. The main goal of those policies was to apparently force the Iranian government - but actually the Iranian nation - to make a reevaluation of the costs and benefits of what they consider their inalienable right to make peaceful use of nuclear energy, and finally give up the country’s nuclear energy program. Of course, the main result of those policies was nothing but the unstoppable nuclear progress of Iran, as well as the violation of basic human rights of the Iranian people to have suitable access to food and medicines and also their right to development. The overall outcome of those hostile policies was increasing distrust between the two countries.
These new signals sent by the United States, especially in combination with reports about the decision to postpone enforcing new sanctions against Iran up to October, have led to hot debates in the Iranian media. The common denominator among those debates is that, regardless of pessimistic or optimistic views of the experts, all of them have pointed to the necessity of adopting a cautious approach to the United States signals. This issue, per se, is indicative of the maturity and dominance of realism among Iranian political experts. With the above facts in mind, the following points may prove useful in this regard.
1. Although it is necessary to discard hostilities in order to start a relationship, and steps should be taken for the improvement of ties regardless of historical viewpoints, another critical point which should not be ignored in the meantime is the importance of the “existence of the need to establish relations.” As long as the United States has not considered the presence of Iran critical for the resolution of the existing problems in the Middle East, it would be almost impossible to establish a logical relationship between the two countries based on mutual respect. Also, as long as the United States believes that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey or any other country are able to help it to fill the void of Iran in political, economic, energy, or security spaces of the region, and tries to rearrange those spaces with the equation of “everybody except Iran,” it would not be possible for Washington to have a logical and sustainable relationship with Tehran. Iran, on the other hand, would not be willing to have relations with the United States under such circumstances.
2. Unfortunately, the radical elements have had the upper hand in the US Congress through the greatest part of its history. [This has been true] both when [former US President George W.] Bush was in office on the US side, with [former Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami in Tehran; and both when [their successors, the US President Barack] Obama and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad were in office. Therefore, there is a powerful assumption in the minds of Iranians that regardless of who sways the executive power in Iran, the United States policies toward the country will never change.
3. It is true that at present nothing is certain on the side of Iran. Mr. Rouhani has so far made no explicit remarks on the relations with the United States which would show in which direction his administration would move in the next four years. Members and composition of the country’s foreign policy team have not been announced yet and the new configuration of the Supreme National Security Council, which plays the pivotal part in the nuclear negotiations, has not been determined yet. However, there have been a few tangible and major changes which cannot be easily ignored.
- Firstly, the general atmosphere has changed, both inside Iran and with regard to international attitude toward Iran.
- Secondly, there is high possibility that Iran's foreign policy methods will also change. Of course, there is still no solid proof to uphold this claim, but almost all domestic experts in Iran and their international counterparts are unanimous in this regard.
- Thirdly, the character, the method used by, and the capacities of Mr. Rouhani and, as a result, his foreign policy team, will provide Iran with enough potentials to get out of its defensive posture in the area of foreign policy during the next few months and take a positive step in this regard. Given the experience already gained during the tenure of Mr. Khatami and the fact that current conditions closely resemble the Iranian society’s conditions at that time, it is not difficult to foresee that Iran's untapped soft power potentials are sure to be reactivated and the Islamic Republic will once more emerge as a major player both in the region and on the level of international organizations. A possible trip by Mr. Rouhani to take part in the forthcoming summit meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to address the heads of state will further invigorate this assumption. If Mr. Rouhani attends the meeting to slam the United States and European countries for their unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, and adopt an active diplomacy in this regard in cooperation with other sympathetic states, the radical American politicians who seek to forge international consensus against Iran will certainly find themselves in a difficult situation. It is, therefore, easy to imagine that in this case, General Assembly speeches like the one delivered by [the Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu during last year’s summit will find a remarkably smaller audience.
4. It is quite clear that the declaration of Mr. Rouhani’s policy of moderation has made a certain portion of the American community of experts and policymakers reach the conclusion that their country can, and should, make the most of the existing political climate. The past experience has proven that the degree of pessimism and suspicion in bilateral relations is so high that any opportunity for the establishment of relations is usually rapidly lost. Some analysts maintain that these opportunities are largely squandered due to dawdling and passivity of both sides of the equation. Others, however, think the opposite is true and maintain that these opportunities are deliberately wasted by certain groups on both sides and even under pressures from such foreign players as the Israel. Interestingly, when such windows of opportunity are closed, experts and those responsible for the loss of the opportunity express regret for many years and keep talking about the potentials which existed for exploitation and which easily slipped through their fingers!
5. The experience of many years of interactions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the West has proven beyond any doubt that when a new political climate is created, the involved parties should neither become rapidly ecstatic, nor lose hope quickly. A large part of the diplomacy revolves around the realities on the ground, while another part is more based on the mindsets of the two sides. If positive signals that Washington has been sending to Iran during the past few days gain ground against negative impulses issued by warmongers and radicals and succeed to survive, at least, for a few weeks in the area of the United States foreign policy, then the Iranian side will reach the conclusion that what the Americans are looking for is more than mere propaganda. By that time, Mr. Rouhani’s foreign policy team would be also configured and early plans for developments in September [including possible nuclear talks and possible participation of Mr. Rouhani in the UN General Assembly meeting] would be made. The dominant atmosphere in Iran on a variety of levels, including among the media, statesmen, and the public opinion, is an atmosphere of moderation and rationality. If the Americans succeed in maintaining the existing atmosphere on their side and do not allow the radicals to make the water muddy in order to catch their desired fish, then, for the first time in the past three decades, there may be the possibility that preconditions for the resolution of problems and misunderstandings between Iran and the West, especially the United States, come to exist as a result of the two sides’ fair and just attitudes in combination with their rationality and foresight.
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