60-Second Expert: U.S.-Iran Relations

Iran’s nuclear program has become the focal point of international discussions about the region’s future, and the United States and its allies have made the resolution of the nuclear standoff a precondition for future discussions of Iran’s broader interests. Therefore, despite President Obama’s emphasis on diplomacy, U.S. relations with Iran remain strained. It would be in the best interest of both countries to put aside their history of conflict and often baseless mutual suspicion in favor of a more forward-looking approach.

There are two major perspectives today vis-à-vis Iran, neither of which reflects a thorough understanding of its motivations and behavior. One view characterizes Iran as a suicidal extremist state that is unrestrained by nuclear deterrence. The other assumes that Iran is a mule, offered a carrot in exchange for behavioral compliance and threatened with a stick to make sure it takes the offer.

In reality, Iran is both rational and self-assured, meaning that sanctions have a limited effect on its behavior, especially in light of its intimate ties with Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Though Washington would like to believe Iran has become more isolated than ever, the reverse is true. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have allowed Iran to emerge as a major regional power.

Additionally, a look at the Iranian regime’s history reveals that it has not been involved in any offensive military operation, casting doubt on the argument that Iran is an aggressive force interested in territorial expansion. Therefore, considering Iran’s growing influence in the region, it would be in the U.S best interest to respond to Iran’s call for negotiations and agreements not only on the nuclear issue, but also on a range of other security and economic interests.

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FPIF contributor Richard Javad Heydarian is an Iranian observer and analyst of developments in the Middle East. He is based in Manila.