Now that a confidence-building agreement has been reached, further negotiations with
will continue unless the Israeli government,
Congressional hawks, or Iranian
hardliners manage to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings.
But it is also time to consider further steps to improve relations with
The lack of official diplomatic relations with
has not prevented us from making this deal. But this agreement may signal an opportunity
to end the abnormal situation that has existed since 1980: the lack of an Iranian ambassador and embassy in Washington
and of official American representatives
Of course the seizure of our
embassy in 1980 and the prolonged captivity of our diplomats made it impossible
to continue normal diplomatic relations at that time. International law and custom long had required countries to respect
diplomats even when war breaks out with their country. Thus Japanese and German diplomats were
allowed to leave the U.S.
after Pearl Harbor and American diplomats were free to come
home. The refusal or perhaps inability of the Iranian
government to free the Americans immediately was a gross violation of the basic
rules of the game.
But that was a third of a century ago. The
recognized the Communist regime in China
in 1979, only 30 years after the
Communists came to power there.
Actually, our mutual isolation began eroding right after President Nixon’s
dramatic visit in 1972. It is now
generally agreed that this trip was one of Nixon’s finest accomplishments.
While the time may not yet be ripe for President Obama to visit
Tehran, we can hope that he is quietly exploring the
possible recognition and exchange of diplomats with President Rouhani. For political reasons both in Washington and
Tehran, any such agreement might have to
be phased in gradually, as it was with China,
but it would be good to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
Diplomatic recognition implies an obligation not to try to bring about “regime change” in the other country, whether in our own interests or for humanitarian purposes. Our track record in such adventures (think of
Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya,
and probably Syria)
is dreadful and we should learn something from that record.
Secret negotiations about mutual recognition are probably going on, but what can Americans and Iranians do in more public ways to improve our relations? Is it time for an American ping pong team to visit
Tehran? Or for an Iranian sports team to play in the
U.S? An exchange of symphonic orchesta
concerts? High school or college
students spending a semester living with
families in the other country?
Perhaps all of the above. And while we are at it, we ought to encourage the Iranian and Israeli governments to think about similar exchanges and, ultimately, mutual diplomatic recognition. Perhaps a few hundred Iranian students in
would alleviate Israeli fears, since any Iranian attack would kill these
students too. Likewise Israeli students
in Iran could
reduce Iranian fears, while the person to person contacts could reduce stereotyping
and demonizing of the other country.
And maybe, just maybe, President Obama may end up in
sometime. After Richard Nixon’s 1972
trip, we shouldn’t be too quick to
assume that anything is impossible.
This piece has run in the Adrian, Michigan Daily Telegram and the Corvallis, Oregon Gazette-Times.