In the June 2013 presidential elections in Iran it became clear that the public is overwhelmingly opting for better relations with the outside world. Hassan Rouhani won the elections based on his promises to fulfill that goal among other things.  President Rouhani, a pragmatic-moderate politician, has shown interest for a dialogue with the United States. This in a way resonates what President Obama has been calling for some time ever since he came to office. Therefore, it seems that the moment of truth has arrived. But, in order to create the necessary momentum for a serious and a comprehensive dialogue an early meeting of the two Presidents seems necessary to seal an accord on a road map for the normalization of relations.

In the past and in the course of turbulent relations between Iran and the U.S., several attempts to improve and restore the relations have been made but failed. The initiations included both at macro level in the form of a grand bargain aimed at solving all issues in a package deal or through incremental and step by step approaches, first on Afghanistan and later on Iraq.

It seems that the grand bargain deal did not succeed because when proposed it lacked the needed support from the highest echelons of one or both countries. Similarly, incremental approaches were not able to make a breakthrough since they covered only a narrow agenda unable to create a necessary momentum to arrive at a point to revive the much strained relations.

Meanwhile, besides active political forces in both countries /or third countries which worked against the normalization of relations, a web of influential interest groups that are thriving on sanction policies against Iran- both at national and international level- came into existence and are averse to any relief of sanctions, posing as the main stumbling block in improvement of the relations between Iran and the West in general and the U.S. in particular.

President Rouhani has chosen the motto of “prudence and hope” for his government promising his administration will strive to follow a “moderate” policy in pursuit of Iran’s national interests. He has called for "serious and substantive" talks with the international community for solving Iran's nuclear issue.

Luckily, there have been some positive reactions on the part of the members of the U.S. Congress in the context of the July 19, 2013 letter in which over 130 Congressmen urged the Obama administration to give increased credence to the negotiations process in the aftermath of Rouhani's election.

 Realistic approaches

Obviously, the Iran-US disputes during the past 34 years have its roots in the domestic and international politics. For any real breakthrough in these adversarial relations, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of each country's domestic politics and the role of diverse political forces in the process of decision making.

What seems to be lacking in the Western perspectives is a thorough understanding of Iran’s complex power structure. Their narrative is mostly based on a simplistic analysis in order to justify the current policy of confrontation regarding Iran's nuclear program. This narrative evolves on the role of the Supreme Leader and that his sole authority on the issues related to nuclear question makes any negotiations futile unless he would in a clear tone abandon this program.

The folly in this kind of discourse is that it neglects the complex procedure of consensus building among different power centers in Iran, consequently ignoring the fact that the Supreme Leader considers all those factors before making his final decision on any strategic issues such as that of the nuclear file. Thus, one can conclude that in the process of decision making the President of Iran and his Foreign Minister have a great role to play.

Likewise, it is important for Iran to acknowledge some realities regarding the American political apparatus. It is true that the President of the United States has the ultimate authority in major political decisions in his country but his decisions are also influenced by strong economic and financial networks that nurture American politicians at both the state and federal level The said networks are in some areas integrated with American security apparatus that interacts with powerful foreign lobbies in Washington and are prone to be influenced by them.

 Common interests

The first step in any successful negotiations is to identify the shared and compatible interests as a common ground. For Iran and the United States, those interests have evolved over the past decade. Yet, in the context of the Middle East issues, one of the most important security challenges is the emerging sectarian and civil war accentuated with radicalism.

The recent developments in the region highlight the most urgent priorities for all concerned countries.  The evolving situations especially in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan underscore the vital relevance of Iran for any successful policy in the region.

Long before the current upheavals in the Middle East an Independent Task Force appointed by the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. concluded in its report on July 19, 2004 that it “is in the interests of the United States to engage selectively with Iran to promote regional stability, dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, preserve reliable energy supplies, reduce the threat of terror, and address the 'democracy deficit' that pervades the Middle East as a whole.” The warning of Iran's new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif regarding “the serious need of the region and the world is for serious measures to be taken to prevent radicalism through local democratic models” is plausible in that context.

The past attempts to threaten and isolate Iran have failed. This necessitates trying to speak to Iran and to reach a deal on a package of interesting issues including the matters related to peace and stability in the Middle East.

It seems that after 34 years, there is now a unique opportunity for Iran and the U.S. to engage in a serious negotiation in order to mend their relations. The opportunity should not be missed this time. Both Presidents of Iran and the U.S. should display their courage to overcome the challenges in this regard. Perhaps it would be most purposeful if President Rouhani and President Obama would agree to meet at the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in September 2013 and officially announce their intention to work together toward resolution of the existing differences aimed at restoration of normal relations between their two great nations. 


* Nasser Saghafi-Ameri is a former senior Iranian diplomat, and a scholar and author in the fields of foreign policy, international security, and nuclear disarmament.