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Country-specific Studies (1

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STUDIES on IRAN
Responses,Articles

_________________________________ Foreign Policy Research Centre NEW DELHI (India) _________________________________

Country –specific Studies (1)

STUDIES on IRAN

In the month of April 2013, Foreign Policy Research Centre (FPRC)
launched a country-specific studies project. These countries hold an importance place for India . Each study seeks to highlight India’s relationship in bilateral and international perspective. The initiative begins with Iran and is to be followed by similar studies on other countries-Pakistan,Afghanistan. The Iran project is a timely initiative and in our venture, we have the support of national and international scholars who have agreed to come under the umbrella of FPRC to disseminate knowledge on Iran. We express our sincere gratitude to them for their cooperation in bringing this project to a successful culmination. They have always been a source of strength to us.

Dr.Mahendra Gaur Director

Dr.Indira Gaur Mg. Director

Foreign Policy Research Centre New Delhi

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Country –specific Studies (1)

STUDIES on IRAN

Dr. Mark N. Katz Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia, USA)

Prof. HooshangAmirahmadi Former director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University

&
Kayvon Afshari Political scientist and CBS News journalist

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Country –specific Studies (1)

STUDIES on IRAN

Can Rouhani and Obama Make Peace?
Identifying the systemic factors that constrain US -Iran communication

HooshangAmirahmadi and Kayvon Afshari
HooshangAmirahmadi is a professor and former director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. He holds a PhD from Cornell University and is the founder and president of the American Iranian Council. He is also a Senior Associate Member at Oxford University in the U.K. Kayvon Afshari is a political scientist and CBS News journalist. He also managed the 2013 campaign to elect HooshangAmirahmadi as president of Iran. He holds an MA in International Relations from NYU.

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Abstract

The recent election of moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has led many observers to speculate that direct talks between Iran and the United States may take place in the next four years. This prediction is based on the belief that elected officials can play a decisive role in shaping foreign policy and international relations. While we remain cautiously optimistic that this is the case, there are many systemic factors that challenge the ability of leaders to pursue dialogue. In this paper, we identify the first three sequential steps for communication: 1.) engaging, 2.) sustaining talks, and 3.) reducing tension.Next, we outline the unique challenges that leaders face at each of these steps, constraining them from advancing. In particular, we highlight the role of mistrust and fear, Iranian pride, previous negotiating failures, lack of honesty and diplomacy, misinformation, reciprocity, and the Islamic Revolution as the main challenges. Then, we discuss the role of third parties including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britainin constraining US-Iran dialogue. Finally, we outline our recommendations for future constructive diplomacy between the two governments. ________________________

Introduction
The relationship between theIslamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America remains an anomaly in international relations. The two sides have not had diplomatic relations for over thirty years, a longer period than the diplomatic cutoff after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the communist takeover in China in 1949. Throughout the Cold War, the US and USSR maintained open channels of communication precisely because they were enemies who wished 75

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STUDIES on IRAN

to avoid a spiraling conflict. In the case of US-Iran relations, a series of constraints is preventing the two sides from even talking to one another. Beyond the constraints, there are issues that are dividing the two countries. The US alleges that Iran is not being transparent about its nuclear program, threatens Israel, funds terrorism, abuses human rights, and promotes anti-Americanism. The Islamic Republic complains about US support forits political opposition and ethnic groups, unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and, most importantly, that the US seeks regime change in Iran. All of these issues certainly explain the conflict between the two countries, but they do not explain the failure to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at resolving those issues. In order to understand the failure to communicate, one must analyze it procedurally by dissecting each sequential step in the diplomatic process, beginning with engagement.

Engaging
The main causes of the failure to engage are mistrust and fear on both sides. For Iranian officials, media reports of American covert operations to destabilize the Islamic Republic, sanctions, suspicion that the US is pursuing regime change, and the accusation of being part of an “axis of evil” have created mistrust of the United States, prompting Ayatollah Khamenei to say that the best response is to not retreat from the enemy, “not even one step.” However, an even greater cause of mistrust is the US-led Operation Ajax that overthrew the democratic Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. As Ayatollah Khomeini once said of the United States, “When we have been bitten by a snake, we are even afraid of a piece of rope which from afar looks like a snake… We fear you socially and politically.” The coup has led to a firm belief in the Iranian psyche that the United States and its intelligence agencies intend to cause street disruptions in Iran, topple the Islamic Republic, and install their own friendly leaders. Naturally, this psyche has led to a great deal of mistrust and fear leading to a blockage of negotiating with the United States. This mistrust and fear of the United States prompted a group of radical Muslim students to storm the American Embassy in 1979, taking embassy officials as hostages for 444 days. Observing that the Shah had been admitted to the US, they believed that the United States government was planning another coup to overthrow their nascent theocratic government. While their suspicions were partly validated by seized embassy documents outlining espionage and covert links with opposition groups, the view from Washington remains vastly different to this day. To the United States, this watershed event is a scar in US-Iran relations, demonstrating that the Islamic Republic is a revolutionary, ideological, radical government that ignores international norms of diplomacy and therefore cannot be trusted. This American prism has led to a deep mistrust of the Islamic Republic as well as the conclusion that Tehran will not be an honest party at the negotiating table. Events such as attacks on the Khobar Towers and the

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American embassy in Beirut, the revelation of Iranian nuclear activities in 2003, and attacks on American troops in Iraq have further heightened this sense of mistrust and fear. Beyond the mutual mistrust, Iranian pride has challenged the ability of the two parties to engage one another. Iran sees itself as a great civilization with a long history and rich culture. This belief in Iranian greatness extends to scientific developments and has generated national pride for the country’s nuclear program. In fact, a widely published survey by the RAND Corporation showed that 87% of Iranians strongly support the development of peaceful nuclear energy. This national support, deeply rooted in the nation’s self-esteem, has led observers such as former International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammad ElBaradei to advise the United States to take on a more respectful tone that is sensitive to Iranian pride. While American officials view policy setting as a calculating, rational process of weighing costs and benefits and see pride as a tertiary factor, to Iranians it is a core concern. This dichotomy may be the reason why Americans have failed to appreciate Iranian sensitivity and adopt a language that would effectively neutralize pride.As Iranian officials frequently point out, the dual track policy of “carrots and sticks” is more fitting for a donkey than a proud nation.

Sustaining Talks
Assuming that the two sides can sit at the negotiating table, the next challenge will be for them to sustain those talks by building an agenda and negotiating each item in a diplomatic manner of reciprocating realistic concessions.The main challenges at this step are previous negotiating failures, a lack of honesty and diplomacy, misinformation, and reciprocity. Previous rounds of dialogue, which failed to produce any breakthroughs, give leaders the notion that any talks are destined to fail. For example, Iranian officials participated in the 2001 Bonn Conference, in which both sides participated in fruitful dialogue aimed at forming a post-Taliban national unity government for Afghanistan. Previously, the two sides had engaged in tactical cooperation and Iran used its links with the Northern Alliance to help topple the Afghan Taliban. This short-lived grace period ended in 2002 when President Bush labeled Iran as part of the “axis of evil.” The Afghan experience and other unreciprocated cooperation have left Iranian officials with the impression that dialogue with the United States is largely worthless. Similarly, the United States believes that Iran will not be an honest negotiator. After negotiating with the P5+1 and voluntarily signing the Additional Protocol in 2003, it later reneged on its obligations and suspended the agreement. The next challenge to sustaining talks is that both sides are lacking in honesty and diplomacy, attempting to play a win-lose game rather than working for win-win solutions.This may be because American officials believe that they can extract ever more concessions from Iran by wielding the threat of more sanctions.Similarly, Iraniannegotiators may believe that they can break apart the coalition supporting sanctions without giving up the level of concessions that

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the US is demanding. Essentially both sides are trying to get as much as possible while offering little in return. Compounding this problem of honesty is a great deal of misinformation surrounding the talks. Simply put, they are not dealing with the same set of information and facts. The US often comes to the negotiating table and lodges a complaint against Iran for killing its soldiers in Iraq, while Iran sees this as an unsubstantiated accusation. Similarly, Iranians have accused the United States of spying on them and supporting violent opposition and ethnic groups, which the US sees as baseless. This environment is not conducive for diplomacy and presents a major challenge for sustaining dialogue. Finally, there is the challenge of reciprocity and timing, endemic to virtually all negotiations. Because they have little experience in tit-for-tat concessions with one another and are operating in an environment of mistrust, both find it difficult to make the first concession, believing that the other side will see it as a sign of weakness and not reciprocate. This belief creates a disincentive for revealing what your side is actually willing to offer at the negotiating table.

Reducing Tension
If the United States and Iran manage to overcome all of the challenges to engaging as well as sustaining of talks, they will find themselves challenged by the core issue that has separated them for over thirty years: the 1979 Islamic Revolution, one of the most important in human history.This Revolution defined itself as anti-American and continues to remain so to date. Its ethos and mandates still motivate and inform its leaders in their foreign and domestic policies. It is because of this inertial belief system that some Iranian leaders,through the prism of that Revolution, view the United States as “The Great Satan.” On the other hand, the United States continues to view Iran as a revolutionary country, and objects to its behaviors including defending the rights of oppressed Muslims around the world, exporting the Revolution, resisting the American regional presence, and stoking anti-Americanism.This Revolution changed US-Iran relations from a friendly partner to a conflicting rival.Until both sides change their prism and see each other from a different lens, the situation will continue. The Islamic Republic must see America as a superpower with interests in the Middle East, and the US must see Iran as a regional power with legitimate claims for its regional position.

Third Parties
Beyond understanding US-Iran communication through the procedural framework outlined in this paper, the role of third parties must also be taken into consideration. Third parties present their own set of constrains on dialogue at all levels from engagement, to sustainability of talks, to tension reduction and beyond. Of particular importance are Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britain. 78

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Israel, as the closest American partner in the region, inserts itself in US-Iran relations because it wants to make sure that if there is a path to peace, it runs through Tel Aviv. Surrounded by enemies, Israel prioritizes its national security and views the source of many threats to its existence emanating from Iran. It takes the rhetoric of some Islamic Republic leaders seriously, is alarmed by Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and is deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. Naturally, Israel is very skeptical of any potential deal between the US and Iran because it worries that its own security concerns may fall by the wayside. America’s other regional partner, Saudi Arabia, is also largely suspicious of talks between the US and Iran. The Kingdom was founded on the principles of Salafism, a movement in Sunni Islam that is thoroughly anti-Shi’a.Through this lens, Saudi Arabia sees Iran as an ideological Shi’a state and as a challenger to its claim of being Islam’s representative.Furthermore, the Kingdom is worried about rising Shi’a power in the Arab world from Bahrain to Iraq to Lebanon. It views the Islamic Republic as destabilizing the status quo by supporting Shi’a communities, even in its own Eastern Province.Therefore, it remains skeptical of US-Iran talks so long as its concerns about Iran as a radical Shi’a state are not resolved. Similarly, British officials see Iran as a destabilizer in a region where they have immense oil and business interests.The British Empire’s domain once included large swaths of territory in the Middle East and North Africa. As Lord Palmerston said in 1848, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Those interests, includingaccess to oil, trade, regional stability, and reliable access to strategic waterways, continue to shape British foreign policy today. British trade in the Middle East is extensive, including the al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the single largest defense contact in UK history. Great Britain is concerned about Iran’s threat to regional stability and its behavior toward its Arab neighbors. London remains doubtfulthat Tehran’s behavior will change and therefore is skeptical about the prospect of US-Iran dialogue, which it sees as likely fruitless.

Conclusion
The recent inauguration of a new president in Tehran presents a potential opening for the United States and Iran to pursue engagement and find a diplomatic solution to their grievances. Similarly, while there has been some continuation of Bush policies, the Obama administration has expressed a greater openness for dialogue with Iran.While leaders certainly matter in US-Iran relations, the systemic factors outlined in this paper must also be taken into consideration. Furthermore, although it is important to consider the issues dividing the US and Iran, it is more useful to conceptualize the process of communication as a series of steps with unique challenges. By implementing this framework, one can conclude that the only way for US-Iran communications to be fruitful will be to effectively neutralize these constraints. 79

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More specifically, to engage they will need to devise a way to reduce the level of mistrust between them, and find a diplomatic language that is sensitive to Iranian pride. To sustain their talks, they must adopt win-win strategies, be honest with one another, deal with the same set of information, and reciprocate in good faith rather than exploit the other sides’ concessions. If they manage to sustain their talks, they will need to finally come to terms with the issue that has divided them for thirty years: the Islamic Revolution. One solution would be for Iran to essentially give up on its Revolution and for Rouhani to become the Gorbachev of Iran. This would certainly satiate the American desire to see a non-theocratic form of government in Iran. The opposite solution would be for the United States to finally come to terms with the Islamic Revolution and simply accept Iran as a theocratic state that stokes anti-Americanism and wishes to export its Revolution. Between these two extremes there is a middle ground solution in which Iran essentially relinquishes parts of the Islamic Revolution while the United States stomachs other aspects. For example, Iran could give up on its revolutionary mandate to support Hezbollah and resist Israel, and instead adopt the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation approach, whereby it would cease violence but condition diplomatic relations on a just solution to the Palestinian issue. In return, the United States could forgo its efforts toward destabilization and regime change. To be sure, all of these solutions will be very difficult. The two sides have little experience in dealing with one another and face domestic political pressures that aggravate their problems. However, leaders on both sides must take these systemic constraints into consideration if there is any hope of seizing this change in leadership as a breakthrough moment for US-Iran relations. ****************

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