The Nuclear Crisis needs to be resolved today. G5+1 is desperately trying to surround the Iranian leaders and compromising in every manner to come to an agreement. However the basic conflict of ideologies and trust between the two sides stretches long back. The two sides have been trying to come to common grounds but unsuccessfully owing to the foreign policies of respective countries. If one looks at the Iranian Timeline (shown through this paper), one will see that the world power United States has changed its foreign policy towards Iran ample number of times over years.
The conventional reason given to explain the conflict is lobbying carried out by diplomats of other influential countries, geopolitics and so on and so forth. However, this paper argues that these twists and changes in foreign policies towards and of Iran are a function of the change in politics of USA and Iran (in other words, administrations of the world’s superpower The United States Of America and The Islamic Republic Of Iran).
Background of the Revolution of 1979
Change in Administration:
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 can be stretched far back, however, the US’s first major intervention was in Iranian coup d’etat in 1953. Pro-western, absolute monarchy was restored under King Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi after the coup. Iran’s democratically elected president Mohammad Mosaddeq was overthrown in a joint operation by American intelligence agency CIA and British intelligence agency MI6. The U.S carried out this coup d’etat in interest of its own foreign policy in order to save Iran from falling under the influence of Russian communism. The Iranian coup d’etat, carried under the American presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, laid the most fundamental seed to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well as various future policy shifts towards and from Iran.
A major uplift was that:
U.S provided Iran with a 5 megawatt Tehran Research Reactor in 1967. Further decline in internal politics of Iran:
However, even though relations were on a high, Mohammed Reza Shah created controversial spurs within Iran with his proliberal policies. This bolstered support for the upcoming revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Pahlavi introduced a number of democratic theories which Khomenei deemed to antiIslamic in nature. Some of these policies included destruction of seminaries, reduction in funds to mosques around the country (which significantly decreased from 20,000 to 9,015 between 1965 and 1975), and modified clock and calendar which would affect the timings of daily prayers and rituals. Such policies and moves led to the radicalization of the clergy. This very same clergy who had supported the Shah initially, turned in favor of the radical Khomenei leading the revolution against the Shah.
Policy factors in because of installation of puppet regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi by the United States. Relations were maintained between the two countries marked by the provision of Tehran Research Reactor by the US.
Ayatollah Khomenei ( Internal political shift)
Change in administration:
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, founder of Islamic Republic Of Iran became the first supreme leader of the country after the revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini inforced a theocratic government replacing and dumping all ideals of democracy. He envisioned the Islamic Republic to be absolute Islamic with absence of any democratic element and parliament. Iran took a sharp turn in its relations with US, Israel, and Iraq. However Khomenei’s harshness can only be seen towards the western world.
Change in Policy:
As this paper argues a change in administration was registered by quick changes in policy. The very first move by the US was to stop the supply of replacement fuel which it provided for Tehran Research Reactor.
A change in regime came with change in policies. We can see that Ayatollah Khomenei’s appointment comes at a hostile relation with the US. The US discontinues to provide Iran with replacement fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor.
The Iranian Hostage Crisis
Change in Policy :
In a sharp turn of events the Iranian Hostage Crisis punctured the country’s leftover relations with the US. 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for a 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981). The hostage crisis became the most covered event by media after the World War II. In pursuit of coming to a negotiation the American Administration announced the Algiers Declaration which revoked all trade sanctions on Iran as soon as the hostages are released in 1981. As this paper argues, this change in policy very clearly takes place due to change in leadership. The Algiers Declaration is passed in the US Congress under the fresh presidency of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan frees all Iranian assets on the American soil barring that of the royal family (Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi). As per Iranian demands all assets Mohammad Shah Reza Pahlavi is to be given to Iranian courts to answer for all his crimes. (However, Reza Pahlavi who was given asylum in America for his treatment of cancer finally died in Egypt on 27 July, 1980)
As this paper will show you, upcoming presidential elections and freshly held elections in one of the two countries have played a major role in determining relations between them. Ronald Reagan had just been elected to office and needed to show Americans that he could handle the
Iranian Hostage Crisis as well as the voters’ decision to elect him was correct. He passed the Algiers Declaration as a negotiation tool with Iran.
Change in Policy:
President Reagan and Iran: A negotiation deal takes place and the US congress passes \ the Algiers Declaration in exchange of freedom of American citizens and diplomats. . However one needs to understand that the Algiers Declaration was not a concrete policy change towards Iran but only a negotiation deal. US policy was still extremely hostile the Islamic Republic of Iran. Post Algiers Declaration hostility between the two nations increased when the Reagan administration declared Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and Washington further imposed a number of restrictions (with one of them being US opposing World Bank loans to Iran). On January 19, 1984 the US Department of State added Iran to its list of state sponsors of terrorism and imposed sweeping sanctions on Tehran.
Reagan administration declared Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and opposed giving World Bank loans to Iran. It is evident that (the next supreme leader of Iran) Ali Khamenei did not hold very good relations the US.
Iran Contra Affair
Policy Shift (Policy change due to crisis):
While all the sanctions and restrictions were being imposed, in an interesting turn of events, with Ali Khomenei’s immediate reelection, president Reagan got involved in the Iran Contra Scandal. In exchange of assistance in freeing US hostages kidnapped by Hezbollah, America sold its weapons to Iran via Israel . This marked the second time during his tenure when Ronald Reagan took a stand which was not in accordance with the US policy towards Iran.
Summary of crisis situations during Reagan’s term of office:
Crisis 1: The first Algiers Declaration and the second the Iran Contra Affair. However both these events came at a time of fresh elections in one of the two countries. The Algiers Declaration became necessary to be passed by the US Congress because of Iran Hostage Crisis.
Reason of Policy Change: Ronald Reagan had just been elected to the White House and needed to show Americans that he could handle a crisis.
Crisis 2: The Iran Contra Affair.
Reason of Policy Change: It came at a point of reelection of Reagan to White House. Reagan’s campaign for his reelection lay emphasis of foreign policy which gave him a landslide victory.
Association with Nuclear Developments:
The reign of Iranian president Ali Khomenei cannot be counted as one of the best in terms of relations with the US. In 1987, Abdul Qadeer Khan,a Pakistani metallurgist and the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons Israel program, shared his research with Iran and other countries, including China, North Korea and Libya.In addition to that, American policy towards Iran further shaped with the ongoing IranIraq war. During the course of the Reagan Administration and Ali Khamenei, not only was Iran declared to be a state sponsor of terrorism, but also got associated with Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The Iran Contra affair and association of Pakistani nuclear scientist to Iran are the major events that take place during President Reagan’s second term of office.
Death of Ruhollah Khamenei (First supreme leader of Iran) and George H.W. Bush
Towards his dying years Ayatollah Khomenei had only one goal in his mind ‘To rid Iran of Western corruption and degeneracy and return Iran to its original purity and glamor.’ An
ideology based on this principle fundamentally never let Iran establish diplomatic relations with the Western World. A key factor that has to be accounted for is the death of Ayatollah Khomenei in 1989.
Change in Administration:
A policy shift takes place with the election of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Tehran and George H.W Bush in Washington in 1991. Rafsanjani, an influential Iranian politician and writer won the presidential elections to become the fourth president of Iran. Reformist in outlook, Rafsanjani immediately put into motion a number of actions and directives to improve relations with the west.
He offered to act as a mediator between the United States of America and Iraq to seek an end to the Gulf War. The offer resulted in no immediate reaction, however President George H.W. Bush received the offer in a good spirit as quoted by an prominent newspaper then.
Even though events till now show that Bush was not as hostile as previous American presidents we can see that upcoming presidential elections in 1993 led the Bush administration to take actions which would lead to popularity amongst American voters. Therefore we need to keep in mind that all following acts carried out were passed keeping in mind the interest of upcoming American voters. The upcoming elections of 1993 in the United States resulted in clearance of the Iran Nuclear NonProliferation Act of 1992. This act prohibited the transfer of controlled good or technology that might contribute ‘knowingly or materially’ to Iran proliferation of advanced conventional weapons.
Death of Ayatollah Khomenei may be considered as a major turning point in USIran relations. The fundamental antiwest ideology of the leader died with him. With Rafsanjani as the new
elected president relations were rekindled. He offered to act as a mediator to put an end to the Gulf War. President George H.W. Bush received this in a good spirit. As this paper argues upcoming elections in countries also played a major role between the two countries. The elections of 1993 led the Bush administration to pass the Iran NonProliferation Act to please the American voters.
Clinton Administration with and without Rafsanjani
Change in Administration:
A major shift in policy takes place with a new state head in Washington with the election of democrat Bill Clinton to presidency in 1993. One only needs to look at the dramatic shift that takes place with the same Iranian president but a different American president. It is clear to see that Clinton does not gel well with Rafsanjani.
The Clinton administration overtly took a strong stand against Iran declaring it a rogue nation. President Clinton becomes the first American president to use that term publicly. President Clinton bans all the American involvement in Iranian petroleum development. He cancelled the $1 billion Conoco (an American oil company) contract which Rafsanjani had cleared during the previous Bush administration to strengthen diplomatic ties with the US. In addition to this Clinton put a cap on the investment that American oil companies. The US Congress passed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 which penalizes American investment exceeding $20 million in Iran’s energy sector in one year. Relations with Iran plummeted during the tenure of Rafsanjani and Clinton.
Relations changed for the worse during the period of Bill Clinton and Rafsanjani. Clinton became the first president to officially declare Iran a rogue nation as well as cancelled the $1 billion Conoco contract. He passed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act which penalized American investment exceeding $20 million in Iran’s energy sector in one year.
Change in Administration:
Things changed for Iran with election of reformist Mohammad Khatami to presidency of Iran.
Khatami’s election was followed by an immediate crisis where the USS Vincennes shot down a commercial passenger Iranian plane killing 254 Iranians. Clinton Administration compensated for the loss and stated that USS Vincennes mistook the plane for a military one. From this point of compensation, relations between the two countries improved. Iran and USA faced each other in a very symbolic match in the FIFA World Cup of 1998. Khatami took every opportunity to escalate diplomatic ties with US announcing and inviting all Americans to visit Iran for vacational purposes, citing the city of Esfahan (a popular religious city). Following trial, the Clinton Administration offered to open up dialogue with Iran and renew diplomatic relations after almost 20 years of no such contact.
However in 1998 the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (in whose presidential term the US added Iran to its list of state sponsors of terrorism) refused to accept Clinton’s offer for a dialogue unless US formally withdrew its support for Israel, lifted the 1995 sanctions on the country and stopped accusing Tehran of developing nuclear weapons and officially ended its policy of stating Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran got caught up in its internal politics of formulating a foreign policy towards US. However after much discussion reformist president Khatami called for a ‘dialogue of civilizations’ with the United States in a CNN interview. In the interview, Khatami invoked Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in Americato explain the similarities between American and Iranian quests for freedom. To this American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (American diplomat to Iran) responded positively, and the countries exchanged of wrestling teams. Further dialogues resulted in positive outcome and resulted in ease and freer travel between the countries as well as an end to the American embargo of Iranian carpetsand pistachios.By the time Clinton left office in January 2001, it was clear that relations between Iran and the United States had significantly cooled despite the fact that President Khatami and President Clinton failed to initiate an official diplomatic dialogue between the nations, something which has not existed since the 1979 hostage crisis.
Things changed with election of President Khatami in Iran. From invitation to Americans to visit Iran for vacations to Clinton Administration offering to open up a dialogue with Iran, relations seemed to be on a high during this period. However Ayatollah Ali Khomenei’s demands put a halt on the ongoing improvement between the two. These extreme demands made Ayatollah exemplified the hostility which the supreme leader held towards the west. However, Khatami’s CNN interview later on proved to be a pivot for establishment of any future development in relations.
Declaration of Nuclear Weapons Development and downfall in International Relations
Relations between the United States and Iran took another due to internal political turmoil in Iran. In 2002 the National Council of Resistance on Iran, the political wing of the terrorist organization Mujahideene Khalq (MeK), holds a press conference and declares Iran has built nuclear facilities near Natanz and Arak.
In an immediate response the United Nations passed a resolution which required Iran to declare all material relevant to its uranium enrichment program and allow IAEA inspectors to conduct environmental sampling at any location. The resolution required Iran to meet its conditions by 1st October 312003. The date is June 18, 2014 and The IAEA rebukes Iran for failing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. Iran responds by refusing to suspend enrichment related activities as it had previously pledged.Iran notified the IAEA that it would suspend enrichment related activities following talks with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. A drastic deal is struck between Russia and Iran under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Russia offers Russia and Iran conclude a nuclear fuel supply agreement in which Russia would provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor it is constructing and Iran would return the spent nuclear fuel to Russia. The arrangement is aimed at preventing Iran from extracting plutonium for nuclear weapons from the spent nuclear fuel. Relations are on a drastic downfall and election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only worsens this scenario.
Conclusion: The Iranian president does no good to improve to improve the already almost nonexistent relations. Republican George W. Bush hardens US policy towards Iran.
Revival through Obama
Change in Administration:
The US presidential elections of 2009. The first African American candidate Barack Obama takes seat in Washington D.C.
Obama administration reviews American policy for Iran and makes some changes in it. US isolates its previous policy and agrees to engage in talks with Iran with the G5+1. The Bush administration had required Iran to meet with all the UN demands before engaging in talks with the G5+1 earlier. A change in regimes results in a number of talks between the world power and Islamic republic of Iran. However Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only able to take these talks to a certain point. The real uplift in US policy comes with the election of President Hassan Rouhani. In 2013 Obama calls Rouhani making the highest level of contact any US president did in almost 30 years since the hostage crisis of 1979. With the improvement of relations between the two countries internal politics in Iran still plays a major role in shaping the outcome of any diplomatic talk. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (supreme leader of Iran) holds the highest magnate and has a final say in everything. However the nuclear talks today have never been closer to a comprehensive solution. But just as this paper argues, everything is a function of internal politics between the World Power and state of Iran.
Rouhani and Obama have much better relations than ever before. President Obama agreed to participate in the G5+1 talks with Iran and isolated the previous American policy which required
Iran to conform to all UN demands prior to engaging in talks with G5+1. In addition to this, Obama in 2013 made a phone call to Rouhani marking the highest level of contact between the two countries since the crisis of 1979.