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The Right Timing for a Thaw in US-Iran Relations?


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's new foreign minister, Javid Zarif, are set to talk later this week at the United Nations as part of a meeting of world powers concerned about Tehran's nuclear program. Some analysts believe this may be the first step in a significant thaw in U.S.-Iran relations.

In Iran, memories of the massive celebrations following the election of President Hassan Rouhani remain fresh in the minds of many - as are the hopes that a new beginning with the U.S. and the rest of the world may be within reach.

Hassan Rouhani

  • Elected president with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in June, 2013
  • 64-years-old
  • Member of the Expediency Discernment Council
  • Served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005
  • Member of parliament from 1980 to 2000
  • Member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999
  • Served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator before Saeed Jalili
As he departed Tehran for the U.N. on Monday, President Rouhani stoked those hopes anew when he promised to show the world Iran's "real face."

President Barack Obama has also raised the possibility of a thaw throughout his presidency, and indeed as far back as his first presidential campaign.

But now, as both men head to the U.N, those intentions will be put to the test.

George Perkovich is director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a long-time Iran observer.

“There's a lot of baggage that both sides have to empty in a sense if we are going to start clean," he said. "Americans profoundly distrust Iran. And what I like to say to people here [in Washington] is that the Iranian government distrusts America a thousand times more."

US-Iran Relations
  • Iran, U.S. leaders have not had face-to-face contact in more than three decades.
  • U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Iran's Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi were the last to meet in 1977.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fail to hold talks on stabilizing Iraq at a 2007 Sharm el-Sheikh conference, but greet each other at a lunch
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have exchanged letters since Rouhani's 2013 election
Yet even as much of the world remains suspicious of Iran's true intentions, many observers think this time conditions may be right for change.

Iran's economy has been badly damaged by sanctions and is struggling with soaring unemployment and inflation.

President Obama, already wary of U.S. involvement in Syria, may not want to resort to military force to put Iran's nuclear program out of business.

According to Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institution, "there's a real possibility that if there's a genuine compromise here to be had, that both sides would actually grab it."

The question to be sorted out this week at the U.N. -- very likely behind the scenes -- is whether the beginnings of such a deal are indeed there for the making.

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