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America and Iran: Can the Nuclear Deal Lead to Rapprochement?

Considering how bad Iranian-American relations have been for so many years up until recently, it is remarkable that these two governments were able to reach a nuclear agreement at all. But can they now build upon this agreement to improve their relations more broadly?

There are significant obstacles to this. One, of course, is that there are influential forces at work in both countries that want to scuttle the nuclear deal altogether. But even if these do not succeed in blocking the deal, there are other important differences between the two countries over several issues, including ongoing regional conflicts, Iranian relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, and human rights issues.

In his July 19 Washington Post op-ed piece, Fareed Zakaria observed that China and America were able to embark on rapprochement in 1971 despite important differences between them, including ongoing Chinese support for Vietnamese communists fighting American forces in Indochina and for the spread of Marxist revolution in general. Over the next seven years, though, Chinese foreign policy changed and Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, “broke with Mao’s revolutionary worldview.” Zakaria argued that while Iranian support for revolution is unlikely to change in the next few months, greater Iranian contact with the rest of the world will also “empower those Iranians who see their country’s destiny as being part of the modern world, not in opposition to it.”

It is certainly possible that Iranian-American relations will follow the positive Sino-American model. But it is also possible that they will follow the negative one that the attempted Soviet-American rapprochement of the 1970s took. Back then, the United States and the USSR achieved a series of landmark nuclear arms control agreements. But also back then, Washington and Moscow backed opposite sides in several regional conflicts, including ones in the Middle East, Angola, the Horn of Africa, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in the Carter Administration withdrawing the SALT II treaty from consideration for ratification by the Senate, which would have undoubtedly voted it down. A renewed Cold War then ensued which lasted until well after Gorbachev came to power.

What this 1970s-era Soviet-American case shows is that continued differences over regional security issues can halt progress toward rapprochement not just in in an overall bilateral relationship, but also in the nuclear arms control arena where progress has actually been made. This risk is present now: Iranian-American differences over regional issues could not only halt progress toward a broader Iranian-American rapprochement, but could serve to undermine the Iranian nuclear accord as well. ...

Read entire article at The National Interest