Iran – US Cooperation Requires More Trust and Mutual Respect

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Mark J. Gasiorowski
By: Kourosh Ziabari

As the final preparatory step for the implementation of the comprehensive nuclear deal agreed by Iran and the group of six world powers has been taken after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano submitted his report on the past and present outstanding issues regarding the country’s nuclear program to the nuclear watchdog’s Board of Governors, political scientists and foreign policy experts are now passionately debating the prospective, much-anticipated thaw in the Iran-U.S. relations.

A noted academician and political scientist, who is known in Iran for his research about the 1953 coup d’etat against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, reflects that time is absolutely ripe for a full-fledged rapprochement to connect Iran and the United States, and the two sides need to seize the opportunity of Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama being in power in Tehran and Washington to melt the ice of more than three decades of diplomatic rupture and estrangement.  

“I think this could be a time for a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations. The possibility seems more likely now than at any time since the Islamic Revolution,” Prof. Mark J. Gasiorowski tells Iran Review.

Mark Gasiorowski is a political scientist teaching at the Tulane University in New Orleans, specializing in the Middle East and Third World politics as well as the U.S. foreign policy. His 2004 book “Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran” published by the Syracuse University Press has been translated into Persian and popularly received in Iran. He has been eulogized by the globe-trotting, accomplished journalist Stephen Kinzer for his extensive studies on the 1953 coup. Gasiorowski has been a visiting professor at the University of Tehran in 1994, 1996 and 1998.

In the following interview, Prof. Gasiorowski has shared with us his insight into the ups and downs of Iran-U.S. relations and the importance of their mutual cooperation in addressing the Syrian crisis.

Q: Prof. Gasiorowski; the history of Iran-U.S. relations, as you’ve extensively studied, is rife with misunderstandings and dark moments. There have been chances for a reconstruction of the murky ties at times, but these moments were never seized, and the likelihoods for reconciliation hardly translated into action. Do you think the recently-accomplished nuclear agreement can serve as a basis for better relations linking the two countries in the future?

A: Yes, I think this could be a time for a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations. The possibility seems more likely now than at any time since the Islamic Revolution. However, there are powerful domestic factions on both sides that oppose such a thaw and will resist it strongly. Therefore, I think it will only happen slowly, at best. Some crucial turning points will be Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections and the U.S. presidential election in November 2016. If opponents of a thaw do well in either of these elections, the current stalemate will likely persist.

Q: The U.S. government repeatedly levels accusations against Iran over its human rights record and its treatment of the women and minorities. This is while Iran is doing far better than many of its neighbors, including the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region, in terms of social and political freedoms. Is the United States approaching the human rights concern in a consistent and coherent manner?

A: No, of course not. Things like this are always politicized, not only by the United States but by most other countries, Iran included. But Iran’s human rights record certainly is not good.

Q: I’ve got a question on the theme of terrorism. The U.S. government’s definition of terrorism doesn’t match up with that of Iran, however, both Washington and Tehran agree that ISIS is a menace for the Middle East that needs to be obliterated. With this unspoken agreement, why don’t they fully cooperate to root out the ISIS terrorists? What’s your take on the inclusion of Iran in the international talks on the future of Syria?

A: There is plenty of room for the United States and Iran to cooperate to their mutual advantage, both against ISIS and on a wide range of other matters. But cooperation of this sort requires far more trust and mutual respect than currently exists. The Obama administration certainly has been open to cooperation with Iran, but most of Iran’s leaders seem opposed to this.

Q: So, on the matter of Iran-U.S. thaw, the American officials usually demand a change in Iran’s “behavior” when they speak of the possibility of initiating normal bilateral relations. There’s a question: in July 2015, the United States restored official relations with Cuba 54 years after they were severed during the Cold War. Cuba hadn’t apparently changed anything in its “behavior.” It was simply the U.S. government that came to the conclusion that maintaining hostility with this imperative country would not be viable. Doesn’t the same hold true for Iran?

A: Cuba has changed its behavior a great deal from what it was like 25-30 years ago, not to mention 50-60 years ago. However, until recently there was a strong anti-Castro lobby in the United States that prevented normalization. That faction has largely disappeared, with the end of the Cold War and the passing of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary generation. There is no Cold War affecting Iran now, and the anti-Iran lobby in the United States is not nearly as strong as the anti-Castro lobby was. So I think a thaw could occur relatively quickly now, if Iran were to moderate its anti-American rhetoric. But President Obama’s successor – whether Democrat or Republican, is likely to be less interested in a thaw with Iran. So time is running out to take advantage of this opportunity.

Q: As a final touch, what difficulties lie ahead of an Iran-U.S. rapprochement? Unlike the nuclear dossier, there’s no conceivable confluence of interests in the broader issues in the Middle East that set the two nations against each other. With so much difference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Saudi involvement in Yemen, the crisis in Bahrain and the Syrian question, how should Tehran and Washington open up new horizons for settling their disputes?

A: I would begin with cooperation in the areas of common interest: fighting ISIS, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, further lowering tensions in the Persian Gulf, and reestablishing economic and cultural ties. I think there is also room for some cooperation, or at least a lowering of tensions, on Syria and Yemen, where the current intense conflicts do not serve either country’s interests. These issues provide plenty of opportunity for cooperation. I hope it happens.

Key Words: Iran – US Cooperation, Trust, Mutual Respect, Misunderstandings, Reconciliation, Human Rights Record, Rapprochement, Middle East, Cold War, Iran-US Thaw, Cuba, ISIS Terrorists, Gasiorowski

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