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For the first time in many of our lives direct communications between American and Iranian leaders have taken place. While not enough to simply end decades of hostility this is something which should be noted by everyone as a historically significant event. At the moment there may only be the ‘basis for resolution’, as Obama described, but it is still a promising start and an overdue recognition that something has to change in Iranian-American relations.
Relations between America and Iran have been tense since the 1979 Iranian revolution which resulted in the overthrowing of Shah Mohammed Reza, a tyrannical despot whose revolution in 1956 and subsequent premiership was supported by America and Britain, after the popular President Mohammad Mosaddegh had nationalised oil supplies in the Middle Eastern country. Offering shelter to Reza after the revolution did not help the relationship and exacerbated the divisions between the two countries. Tensions worsened under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency from 2005 to 2013 however since the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani, this summer, relations have been in flux.
No longer led by the unstable Ahmadinejad there are even fewer reasons against the renewal of Iranian and American talks. For too long some US officials hid behind human right abuses, scare-stories about nuclear weapons and Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial as reasons for crippling economic sanctions and military bravado. Conveniently forgetting ripe hypocrisy as they have supported and propped up some of the most despotic and tyrannical regimes since the Second World War, while America prospered.
Iran has also been ignored when saying they don’t want a nuclear weapon. In their 34 years of independence Iran, despite having decent cause to, has not developed a nuclear weapon. After being subjected to Chemical weapon attacks from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces in the 80s, sponsored by Britain and America, the country did not respond with nuclear weapons. American officials have even ignored numerous religious edicts from Ayatollah Khameni which have forbid the use or even creation of nuclear weapons. Khameni himself even felt compelled to take a full page advert out in the New York Times in 2005 as the prospect of a US military attack grew under George W. Bush. However US hawks have still kept their sights on Iran, the country with the third largest oil supplies in the world.
Obama too looked to be treading a dangerous path towards military intervention in Iran. He offered what was described as ‘peerless sanctimony’, accusing Ahmedinajd of rigging his victorious election in 2009. He too, was said to have launched the World’s first cyberweapon aiming to cause physical and lasting damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Similarly in his first term in office Obama ruled over tougher economic sanctions on Iran than his 3 predecessors in the Presidency. Sanctions which have choked Iranians economically and strengthened hardliners positions in the country. However the election of Rouhani and his positive diplomacy have seemingly caught the hawks off guard and give an opportunity to help end not just the tension between America and Iran but the Syrian war.
As Shirley Williams has said, Iran remains President Assad’s greatest ally and their abhorrence for chemical weapons which they suffered from so devastatingly in the 1980s can work in their favour. Equally, promises to raise economic sanctions were Iran to negotiate a ceasefire would help ease tensions in both Damascus and Tehran. It might take serious diplomacy but it seems a far more appealing option then sending bombs and guns in support of an opposition that has proved itself volatile in an already unpredictable region.
If followed through this could be one of Barack Obama’s first foreign policy achievements where he hasn’t sanctioned the unlawful killing of an unarmed, untried civilian. However credit should go to President Rouhani and the Iranian people for electing a more moderate leader, rather than Obama, whose macho posturing in his first term did little to ease tensions between the two countries. But for now it doesn’t matter where the credit goes, egos have punctuated this acrimonious relationship far too much. Just a tweet will do. Rather than remain history though, this tweet could be the first step towards even greater historical achievements.