New turns in Iran-US relations
- Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, Washington, USA.


Hassan Rouhani, former chief negotiator on nuclear program, was elected President of Iran two months ago. Rouhani has pledged reform and signaled a shift in the external relation including rapprochement with the western countries on the nuclear program. But the new leader also reaffirmed that Iran would not put a moratorium on the peaceful nuclear program aimed at power generation.


The United States which cut off diplomatic relation with Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979 assumed leadership of the western countries and Israel in opposing Iran's pursuit of nuclear capability. U.S and its allies suspect Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear capability to build weapons which would pose a security risk to Jewish state, Israel.

Mahmud Ahmedenizad, the former president of Iran, made irresponsible statements claiming that the holocaust was a myth. His threat to wipe out Israel from the glove did more harm than good to Iran. The western countries lined up in support of Israel, condemned Iran for bellicosity and resolved to deny Iran nuclear capability. Economic sanctions were imposed in order to compel Iran to abandon its search for nuclear capability. During the past ten years dialogue under sanctions continued with little outcome.
Meanwhile, Israel having a stockpile of over 120 nuclear arsenals became restive and put pressure on the United States to take military actions or enable her to strike the nuclear installations inside Iran. In the General Assembly session, held last year, the Israeli Prime Minister claimed that Iran had reached 90 percent capability to make nuclear bomb. He cautioned that should the international community get hoodwinked in the gambit of dialogue very soon Iran would make the bomb. Israeli leader pleaded before the international community that the risk of inaction against Iran would be far greater than the risk of action.
His tough talking was not without effect. The Security Council imposed tougher sanction against Iran. The latest economic sanction reportedly slashed the export of oil significantly, devalued the currency and brought hardships to the people.

In this backdrop, Hassan Rouhani became the president of Iran. He distanced himself from the hard line position of his predecessor. He welcomed negotiation with the west and expressed optimism that a solution of the "nuclear issue" was possible. President Rouhani even talked about a year bound time frame to resolve the dispute. President Rouhani's rejection of spite for Israel and the West gave a positive signal to Washington.


Tehran and Washington initiated low profile and closed-door negotiation to see whether it would be possible to restore relations that seized up in 1979. The speeches of President Obama and President Rouhani in the General Assembly delivered on 24 September bore the marks of these consultations.
President Obama, in his speech, admitted the undue interference the United States had in Iran leading to the overthrow of elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq.


But he stopped short of expressing regret or making apology for the wrong doing. In the same breadth, President Obama castigated Iran for branding the United States as an enemy, killing the American citizens directly or indirectly and posing threat to Israel. He however, hoped that both governments could now reach a meaningful agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program. President Rouhani, in his speech, defended Iran's nuclear program, chastised the United States for meddling in the Middle East and use of force in the region. He suggested that no country should have nuclear arsenals and invited Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Two days later, the Foreign Ministers of Iran and the United States held a direct meeting lasting for over half an hour. This has been the first, in the past thirty six years, face to face direct meeting between Tehran and Washington at the level of Foreign Ministers. Following the meeting the US diplomat said his Iranian counterpart's presentation was "very different in tune and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities of the future."


John Kerry, US Foreign Secretary added, "One meeting didn't answer questions the international community has had and that much work remains. So we will engage in that work obviously and we hope very much that we will get concrete results." Earlier in the day Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran met his counterparts of the European countries and European Union. Zarif mentioned the meetings were "very substantive, businesslike." He said ,"the West will need to ease sanctions on Iran as talks move ahead and in the endgame, there has to be total lifting of all sanctions…. We hope to be able to move in that direction within a short span of time."


Baroness Ashton, EU Minister for External Relations characterized "twelve months time frame" proposed by Iran very realistic and hinted that some of the sanctions could be eased with the scaling down of certain activities.


On the following morning, President Obama spoke to President Rouhani over phone and said that the United States respects the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place. He also said that it would facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region.


President Obama acknowledged that a path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult.  He communicated to President Rouhani his deep respect for the Iranian people. President Rouhani replied that Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. He indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. The "contact between the heads of two adversaries" marks the beginning of a new chapter.


One should not lose sight of the fact that the irritants that soured the relation between the US and Iran over the past nearly four decades cannot be removed overnight. Given the good will, some of the issues could be addressed within a short span of time. President Rouhani can initiate release of political prisoners in batches, grant amnesty to Iranian-American detainees and signal a positive role in the Syrian conflict.
However, it should also be noted that the constituencies of President Rouhani and President Obama have no dearth of hawkish elements that could reject peace for the sake of status-quo. On the nuclear issue, President Rouhani will have greatest challenge from his adversaries at home. He would need time to evolve a strategy.


Following the political overhaul in Iraq, Iran has emerged as the super power in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. It wields influence from the Shatil Arab to the Mediterranean Sea. Iran, a country of 80 million people with reservoir of vast natural resources takes immense pride for its rich language and culture. It can legitimately aspire to have nuclear capability as some of her neighboring countries, much impoverished, had already acquired nuclear war heads. This reality needs to be acknowledged by the United States and her allies. What is needed is the code of conduct. But the code of conduct cannot be imposed on a particular country, ignoring another, already in possession of nuclear arsenals.


China became a responsible member in the international forum only after it was given rightful place in the United Nations Security Council in 1971. Same principle applies to Iran, newly emerged regional super power. The United States and the international community as a whole should ponder how long to remain hostage to the security myth of six million people of Israel at the expense of 1.5 billion people in the Muslim world. A historic opportunity has come to bring peace in the troubled region. It should not be missed. Time is running out fast.

(The writer is a member of the Voice For Justice World Forum and is a former official of the United Nations