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Research Report

Thinking Beyond the Stalemate in U.S.-Iranian Relations: Volume II – Issues and Analysis

Lee H. Hamilton
James Schlesinger
Roscoe Suddarth
Elaine L. Morton
C. Richard Nelson
Brent Scowcroft
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2001
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 121
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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. 1-6)

    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 to discussion. The goal was to develop a road map to normal relations. At the same time, the United States said that it would maintain its principal sanctions against Iran until Tehran changes its policies on issues of significant concern to the United States:

    support for terrorist groups such as HAMAS, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General...

  3. (pp. 7-25)

    The overarching goal of U.S. policy toward Iran should neither be to influence internal developments there, nor to focus on improved relations between the two countries as an end in itself. Instead, a reformulated relationship between the United States and Iran – one that is eventually characterized by normal diplomatic exchange and multiple forms of engagement – would be but a means toward an end. That end is the fullest possible achievement of U.S. interests.

    To understand the role that Iran can play the achievement of the full array of important U.S. interests, it is necessary to take both a...

  4. (pp. 26-30)

    The United States and Iran have had a hostile relationship for more than two decades.51 The United States severed diplomatic relations on April 7, 1980 after reaching an impasse in negotiations with Iranian officials for the release of U.S embassy personnel who had been held hostage by student militants since November 4, 1979. These events followed the revolution in Iran that culminated in the departure of the Shah on January 16, 1979. Because the United States had been closely allied with the Shah and had, in fact, played an important role in re-establishing him as the ruler of Iran in...

  5. (pp. 31-41)

    When evaluating the prospect for improved U.S.-Iranian relations, it is necessary to understand the system of political decision-making in Iran. Policy toward the United States is formulated within an elaborate system of constitutionally mandated arrangements that give primacy to the Supreme Leader and the institutions that he controls, while providing room for the expression of popular opinion through a democratically elected president and parliament, or Majlis.

    The attitudes toward the United States held by the current Supreme Leader and his supporters differ markedly from those of President Khatami, the Majlis that was elected in February 2000, and the people who...

  6. (pp. 42-62)

    The 1979 revolution in Iran took place at a time when relations were changing between Congress and the executive branch concerning the formulation of foreign policy. Controversy over the prosecution of the Vietnam war had led Congress to pass the War Powers Act in 1973, and the tendency to defer to the president in the making of foreign policy increasingly eroded. Moreover, Congress and the executive branch no longer shared a mutual pride in acting in a “spirit of bipartisanship” that would allow the United States to speak with one voice in foreign affairs.

    Congressional activism increased during the next...

  7. (pp. 63-85)

    There are steps that the United States can take – in its own interest – to remove obstacles created by past policy initiatives. Policies that have been ineffective or counter-productive should be changed if doing so will promote U.S. geopolitical, economic, or energy interests. These steps include relaxing the economic sanctions currently in place against Iran. These sanctions deprive U.S. companies of the ability to compete with European and Asian firms in developing Iranian energy resources and diminish Iran’s ability to contribute to satisfying U.S. and worldwide energy demands. These steps should not be held in reserve as “bargaining chips”...