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Research Report

Thinking Beyond the Stalemate in U.S.-Iranian Relations: Volume I – Policy Review

Lee H. Hamilton
James Schlesinger
Roscoe Suddarth
Elaine L. Morton
C. Richard Nelson
Brent Scowcroft
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2001
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 44
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)
    Christopher J. Makins

    The Middle East presents more difficult choices for policy makers than any other region of the world. Different U.S. interests pull in different directions, misperceptions abound, and expectations are often unrealistic. In this environment, orchestrating policies to advance and protect U.S. interests is extraordinarily difficult. U.S. policy toward Iran exemplifies this situation well.

    After more than twenty years of adversarial relations, the United States and Iran have both begun to demonstrate an interest in breaking out of this long stalemate. Broadly conceived, the benefits for both countries of an improved relationship would be significant. Time has soothed some past wounds...

  2. (pp. 1-3)

    Relations between the United States and Iran are currently frozen. In 1998, the Clinton administration invited Iran to engage in an official government-to-government dialogue in which issues of concern to both parties would be open for discussion. The goal was to develop a road map that would lead to normal relations. At the same time, the United States has said that it will maintain its principal sanctions against Iran¹ until Tehran changes its policies on certain issues of significant concern to the United States:

    support for terrorist groups – especially Palestinian groups and movements like Hizbollah that have perpetrated violent...

  3. (pp. 3-7)

    The United States has a wide range of interests at stake in its relationship with Iran. These include geopolitical interests, security interests, energy interests, and economic interests. To date, U.S. policy has focused almost exclusively on specific security interests, especially discouraging the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missiles that can deliver such weapons. The core security issue, however, remains the opposing positions of the United States and Iran regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus Iranian behavior has been judged mainly on the basis of its opposition to the peace process and its support for terrorist groups involved...

  4. (pp. 7-25)

    The current stalemate between the United States and Iran, while emotionally satisfying to many Americans, does not serve overall U.S. interests well. U.S. national interests include, but are not limited to, regional stability, energy security and moderation of the Iranian regime. The importance of Iran in the promotion of U.S. interests is especially apparent when a long-term perspective is taken and contingencies are considered.

    Both the domestic and international contexts that frame U.S.-Iranian relations have changed significantly over the last few years. Inside Iran, pressure is growing for reforms that will result in a more open and accountable government, although...

  5. (pp. 26-26)

    How far and how fast the United States moves should depend on responses from Iran. While U.S. efforts should not be inflexibly tied to a specific quid pro quo, the United States ultimately must realize clear benefits from engagement in the short and longer term. The United States also should anticipate hostile responses by some Iranians opposed to improved relations. These will be mainly directed at the proponents of closer ties, but also may be launched against U.S. businesses and other interests.

    The Department of State should initiate a review of U.S.-Iranian relations. It should prepare a balanced report, with...