U.S.-Iranian Relations

It seems to me….

Iran rejects weapons of mass destruction based on its belief system, its religious belief system, as well as well as its ethical standpoint.” ~ Hassan Rouhani[1].

The nuclear agreement signed with Iran on 14 July 2015, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), formally went into effect on 18 October 2015 though as it was never ratified as a treaty by the U.S. Senate, its legal applicability under Trump is questionable.

Political relations between Persia (Iran) and the U.S. began when the Shah of Persia, Nassereddin Shah Qajar, officially dispatched Persia’s first ambassador, Mirza Abolhasan Shirazi, to Washington D.C. in 1856. (The naming convention changed from Persia to Iran, the country’s actual name in Persian, in 1935.) In 1883, Samuel G. W. Benjamin was appointed by the U.S. as the first official diplomatic envoy to Iran however ambassadorial relations were not formally established until 1944.

A biblical verse “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” in many ways applies to the U.S.’s relationship with Iran. It is time for the U.S. to be more honest regarding the two nation’s relationship – including the nuclear treaty. Many hawkish U.S. politicians are outspoken in their contempt and skepticism of Iran’s goals and motivation but perhaps they should consider relations between the U.S. and Iran from a more historical perspective. No one likes to be critical of their own country and tries to attribute it with only idealistic motivations but the U.S. has provided Iran with ample justification not only for suspicion but hostile towards us.

The U.S. CIA in 1953 orchestrated a coup d’état against the popular, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, who wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil production so that more of the profit remained in the country. Then, beginning in 1980, the U.S. backed Iraq in their war with Iran, a war costing many hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives. For the last 36 years, the U.S. government has attempted to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year in what the U.S. government calls democracy promotion which is just another term for regime change.

Many Americans have a very erroneous image of Iran considering it rather backward and primitive. Most do not realize that Iranians (as well as the people of Turkey) are not Arab. It has a population of over 80 million, over half of whom are under 35 years of age. About 13 million live in Tehran, its conurbations, and “commuter” towns and is a large modern city similar to most comparable locations in the U.S. While the vast majority are Muslim, it also has Baha’i, Jewish, Christian, and other minorities.

It is the world’s 18th largest economy by purchasing power parity and 29th by nominal gross domestic product. The country is a member of Next Eleven[2] because of its high development potential. A unique feature of Iran’s economy is the presence of large religious foundations called bonyad whose combined budgets represent more than 30 percent of central government spending.

Iran has a mixed transition economy with a large public sector; some 60 percent of the economy still remains centrally planned and dominated by oil and gas production. There are over 40 industries directly involved in the Tehran Stock Exchange, one of the best performing exchanges in the world over the past decade. With 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 15 percent of its gas reserves, Iran is considered an “energy superpower”.

Price controls and subsidies, particularly on food and energy, are a burden on the economy. Contraband, administrative controls, widespread corruption, and other restrictive factors undermine private sector-led growth. Its legislature in late 2009 passed a subsidy reform plan which is the most extensive economic reform since the government implemented gasoline rationing in 2007.

Most of the country’s exports are oil and gas, which in 2010 accounted for a majority of government revenue enabling Iran to amass well over $100 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Iran ranked first in scientific growth in the world in 2011 and is experiencing rapid growth in global telecommunications.

Due to its relative isolation from global financial markets, Iran was initially able to avoid recession in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. However, following new sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian rial fell to a record low of 23,900 to the U.S. dollar in September 2012.

Exports support self-sufficiency and domestic investment though double-digit unemployment and inflation still remain problematic. Iran’s educated population, high human development, constrained economy, and insufficient foreign and domestic investment has prompted an increasing number of Iranians to seek overseas employment resulting in a significant “brain drain”.

The JCPOA was a significantly worse agreement for Iran than it anticipated[3]. The Islamic Republic became serious about negotiating and signed an interim agreement in 2013 when oil was hovering around $100 a barrel. Iran’s major rival, Saudi Arabia, was thriving with an economy that had grown about 6 percent in 2012. Spending lavishly at home and abroad, the Saudi 2013 budget increased by 19 percent.

Iran, meanwhile, was isolated with a shrinking economy. The real motivation for Tehran’s acceptance of the JCPOA was not the return of its funds frozen in banks in Asia and Europe due to international sanctions (about $100 billion), it was finally getting back into the markets as the second largest oil producer in the Middle East and reaping the riches of the boom. In 2010, Iranian officials were predicting that by 2015, Iran’s oil and gas revenue could reach $250 billion annually. These were significant justifications for agreement to JCPOA concessions.

Iran’s oil has begun flowing into the marketplace but with prices of less than $30 a barrel. Bloomberg News calculated that the country is making only about $2.35 billion a month on its oil sales – not quite the prize the Islamic Republic was expecting for giving up its nuclear program.

Still, Iran will probably be able to handle the oil bust better than many other petro-states. Its economy has diversified to some degree and, because of sanctions, there is great resilience in both the economy and society as Moody’s and other financial firms have pointed out. This is not the case for several other large countries negatively impacted by falling oil prices.

Iran has actively attempted to destabilize Mediterranean Gulf States by providing assistance to militants in these countries and attempting to replace existing governments in that area with Iran-like regimes. Many members of the international community have accused it of funding, providing equipment, weapons, training, and giving sanctuary to terrorists. A consideration, however, is that according to the Global Terrorism Database, the majority of deaths (94 percent) attributed to Islamic terrorism since 2001 were perpetrated by Sunni extremists supported by Saudi Arabia rather than Shias backed by Iran.

Still, there are numerous terrorist incidents targeted against the U.S. or U.S. interests directly attributable to Iran or extremist groups backed and financed by them including the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, the 2003 Riyadh compound bombing, and attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and bombings of the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington, D.C. in 2011.

While many Iranians, especially those younger, have a positive view of the U.S. and favor engagement, they also do not understand U.S. accusations of Iranian terrorism when it has been the U.S. that has been involved in wars and violence all over the world.

There is an idiom “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” and this seems applicable to U.S. relations with Iran. The U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia over Iran though the Saudis have been a major exporter of religious extremism through their extensive financial backing of extremist Wahhabi and Salafist sects responsible for numerous attacks directed against the U.S. and western nations. Now, given the election of more moderate and centrist candidates to both the Iranian Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, might be a good time for improved U.S./Iran relations allaying antagonism and suspicion of the U.S. among Iranian hardliners.

The aim of sanctions was to isolate Iran. The Iranian government has met the terms of the JCPOA and it is time to lift these sanctions permitting Iran to have normal open relations with the outside world. While not the fully democratic government the U.S. might prefer, Iran’s government is actually elected by the Iranian people. Entente would lend support to moderates possibly resulting in de-escalation of state-sponsored terrorist activities. While the outcome is by no means certain, if the U.S. does not politically engage with Iran, Iran will be forced to align with Russia and China and this opportunity will be lost.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Hassan Rouhani is a lawyer, academic, former diplomat, Islamic cleric, and the 7th  Iranian President. He has been a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, member of the Expediency Council, and a member of the Supreme National Security Council.

[2] The Next Eleven (or N-11) are eleven countries – Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam – anticipated to become some of the world’s largest economies in the 21st century.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. Free-Falling Countries, Washington Post, http://fareedzakaria.com/2016/02/04/free-falling-countries/, 4 February 2016.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Ambassador, Assembly of Experts, Baha’i, Bloomberg News, Bonyad, China, Christian, CIA, Energy, Envoy, Global Terrorism Database, Iran, Iran, Iraq, Iraq, Islam, Israel, JCPOA, Jewish, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Kenya, Middle-East, Mirza Abolhasan Shirazi, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Nassereddin Shah Qajar, Nuclear Agreement, Parliament, Persia, Petroleum, Prime Minister, Recession, Rial, Rouhani, Russia, Samuel G. W. Benjamin, Sanctions, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Shah, Shi’ite, Sunni, Tanzania, Tehran, Tehran Stock Exchange, Turkey, USS Cole, Wahhabi, Wahhabi Salafism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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