Almost immediately after the atrocities of 9/11, the Iranian government made more of an effort than most Middle Eastern nations in its damnation of the horrific attacks, and emphasized its sympathy for America. It was at this time that Iran and the United States enjoyed some of their best relations since the Iranian revolution of 1979.
However, in a surprise twist, President George W. Bush named Iran a member of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union speech and completely destroyed all hopes for normalized relations. The reason, in retrospect, was almost futile: Iran had been caught allegedly shipping weapons to the Palestinian resistance in Israel. This fateful decision by the United States to restore Iran to pariah status was one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in recent memory, and has helped create the palpable tension of today between the two nations. If the administration had not so blindly placed Israeli interests before the United States’, real diplomatic headway could have been made.
Iran and the U.S. have often shared similar goals for the Middle East. The Taliban had been a thorn in the side of Iran since its birth, and a nuisance to the U.S. since the mid-1990s. After 9/11, Iran provided the United States with significant logistical support; maps, Taliban targets for bombing campaigns, warnings of dangerous Afghan cultural fault lines not to be crossed, and trained Taliban resistance fighters within Afghanistan alongside U.S. military personnel. Iran even went so far as to provide safe haven to U.S. soldiers in their fight against the Taliban as well as transit routes for supplies through Iranian territory.
There was clearly the beginning of real diplomatic discourse taking place, albeit in secret, between the two nations. But it all came crashing down in 2002. Although Iran has been proven to sponsor terrorist organizations within and around Israel, a weapons shipment is relatively commonplace and did not warrant the cessation of diplomatic discourse. Israel has always had its crosshairs on Iran’s revolutionary regime, and it can’t be overlooked that the U.S. reaction to this incident was politically motivated in its knee jerk reaction to back Israel. Because of this reaction, the United States lost the inertia for real rapprochement with Iran.
As the world eyes the P5+1 talks with Iran set to take place this week in Moscow, the majority of experts on the topic seem to have little faith that a deal will be struck. Israel assumes that Iran is stalling for time to continue their enrichment of Uranium and the U.S. seems immovable in their drive to halt all enrichment, something Iran has repeatedly stated it will not do.
If the Obama administration truly desires a diplomatic course of action with Iran, it must come to its senses and realize what can realistically be expected. Second, it must put U.S. policy interests at the forefront of negotiations and those of our allies a close second. As it stands now Israel is pushing for a more concrete military option to be emphasized during the talks today, which is completely antithetical to U.S. interests. While election year politics make legitimate diplomacy difficult – something both Israel and Iran are keenly aware of – the Obama administration must do what is best for the country they have sworn to serve: place personal and partisan political ambitions aside and cut a deal with Iran.