I did an email interview last week with Kourosh Ziabari of Foreign Policy Journal about my trip to Iran and the current state of US-Iran relations.
Kourosh Ziabari: Like many Americans who have visited Iran over the past years, you have alluded to your perception of the warm hospitality of Iranians who seem to be significantly interested in relations with the U.S. and American people. Correspondingly, many Americans talk of their mutual interest in the culture, civilization and hospitality of Iranians and say no good may come of the continuation of acrimony and bitterness between the two nations. However, the unyielding stubbornness of the two countries’ leaders seems to be a major obstacle on the way of reconciliation. What’s your take on that?
Rebecca Griffin: It’s clear to me from interacting with Americans and Iranians that we have a shared desire for better relations and more cultural interaction. There is inertia at the government level because they are working to overcome thirty years of tensions and stumbling over the first steps to a more open relationship. For the past eight years, the Bush administration demonstrated a lack of understanding of the political dynamics and history between the US and Iran, and insisted on a strategy that was doomed to fail because of preconditions for negotiations, and counterproductive saber-rattling.
There have been lost opportunities over the past decades, but I am encouraged by the Obama administration’s shift in rhetoric and willingness to engage directly with the Iranian government. This is an important time for Americans to raise our voices in favor of better relations so our government has the political will to follow through. In the US, we still have obstacles to a better relationship with Iran in that some members of Congress insist on clinging to a failed approach based in punitive sanctions and hostility. Americans who want to see a peaceful relationship with Iran, which accounts for the majority of us, need to insist that our government implement policies that actually enhance our security and bring greater peace to the world.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed, but our governments have made the important first step of agreeing to sit down at the table. To make significant progress, they should cover a wide range of issues, including nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Middle East peace.