United States and Iran continued to scale down 35 years of hostility between the two nations despite both the sides being sceptical of each other. But efforts are being put from both the sides to break the ice and establish some diplomatic relations. Iran was once a powerful ally of the United States in the Middle East. During the cold war, the United States supported, in some cases "propped up," friendly governments as bulwarks against the Soviet Union. And in some of those cases the United States found itself supporting very unpopular, repressive regimes. The Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) falls into this category. Shah Pahlavi’s government was toppled in 1979 in the Islamic Revolution of Iran and was eventually replaced by another repressive regime but this time the leadership was deeply anti-American or anti West. The Ayatollah Khomeini became the ruler of Islamic Republic of Iran. And he gave many Americans their first glimpse of radical Islam. Since then both the countries distanced themselves, became cautions of each other, cut of formal diplomatic ties. Many other incidents also added to the mistrust between US and Iran like:-
A) CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953. The secular leader had sought to nationalise Iran's oil industry.
B) The US-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, who was forced to leave the country following months of demonstrations and strikes against his rule by secular and religious opponents.
C) US embassy hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
D) Iran-contra affair, in which secret arrangement were made to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran.
E) United States supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq-Iran war (1980-88).
F) The American warship USS Vincennes shoots down an Iran Air flight in the Gulf on 3 July 1988, killing all 290 people on board considering it as a fighter jet.
But now both the sides are realizing the importance of each other. On one hand Iran knows that severe economic isolation because of Western sanctions have impaired its oil, banking and manufacturing base, its banking system has been cut off from the international banking system, Oil exports have fallen sharply, inflation is high, its currency has crashed, and unemployment is increasing day by day. All these situations are perfect ammunition for resentment and dissatisfaction among the masses which may even fuel an uprising also if not addressed on time. So now Iran wants these Western sanctions lifted so that it can get some breathing space. On the other hand US is also realizing the Iran's might it knows that Iran sits on 9.40% of proven global oil reserves, putting it in the top five worldwide. The outlook is more promising for natural gas, with 18% of global reserves, placing Iran number one, according to BP's annual survey. Some policy makers in US advocate that reconciliation between Washington and Tehran could produce great strategic gains for both sides. The United States is also concerned about Iran’s role in Syrian civil war in which it is supporting the Assad regime, and its influence in Afghanistan, where it could create havoc as the United States is trying to withdraw by 2014. Iran can help stabilize both of the
countries on its borders that the United States has invaded, Iraq and Afghanistan. It can promote a negotiated settlement in Syria. It may even be able to nudge its friends including Hezbollah and Hamas in the region toward better ties with Israel. So United States now feels Iran should be its partner in the Middle East, not its enemy.
Many bottlenecks still exists in this proposed reconciliation and peace process between the two countries. On the domestic front Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to face array of hard-liners, led by the hugely powerful Revolutionary Guard, which directly reports to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holding sway over nearly everything from Iran's nuclear program to a paramilitary network that reaches each neighbourhood. Revolutionary Guard commanders had warned Rouhani last week that the time was not right for a possible photo-op hand shake with Obama at the United Nations. But the linchpin, as always, remains Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the gate keeper for every key decision. He has so far given critical support to Rouhani's overtures with Washington calling for "heroic flexibility" in diplomacy while giving the Guard a rare scolding to keep its distance from political developments. As long as Rouhani carries Khamenei's favour, there is unprecedented credibility to his offers to settle the impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions and possibly forge ahead on other fronts after a more than three-decade diplomatic estrangement with the US. Iran's main rival Saudi Arabia a close U.S. ally feels that it may be blindsided by a diplomatic realignment in the region by Washington. The same holds for Israel, whose unwavering distrust of Iran would leave it fully out of step with the region's political direction. Other Sunni-dominated gulf countries share a concern about a shift in the balance of power toward Iran’s Shiite-led government and its allies. Moreover issues other than nuclear proliferation also has to be addressed before any series dialogue can be initiated like- Iran supports to Syria's Bashar Assad and Shiite factions such as Hezbollah and the forces of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.
It is very much clear that the region needs a dialogue between the West and Iran because of one of the most fundamental regional fault lines of recent years. That is the split in the region between friends of Iran and friends of the United States. Instead, diplomats are waiting with anticipation to see how the new president gets Iran out of the international relations mess he has inherited from his predecessor Mr Ahmadinejad. So if peace and stability has to be established in the region than hostilities has to ended between these two nations. Moreover west must give a chance to new generation of Iranians, which has more political wisdom and less of the kinds of emotions that generate metaphors comparing America to the Great Satan.
(Author is freelance columnist based in New Delhi and Editor of www.viewsaround.com can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)