5 Ways Obama and Rouhani Can Improve U.S.-Iran Relations


President Rouhani of Iran and President Obama could hold face-to-face talks at the United Nations next week. This possibility emerged after it was revealed that the two presidents have been exchanging letters with one another. If the meeting goes ahead, it would be the first time that such a high-level meeting took place between the two since the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is also expected to meet William Hague, the British foreign secretary and first secretary of state, at the UN general assembly meeting hall. The prospect of the meetings has raised hope of bringing Iran in from the cold. These are five things the presidents should discuss if they do meet.


1. Nuclear Proliferation

The first one is obvious with ongoing tension over Iran's nuclear program. Iran claims that its program is entirely peaceful and for civilian use. But the United States and Israel have raised concerns that Iran's real intention is to weaponize their program, which they may use against the U.S.'s regional allies. There are also fears that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would trigger a regional arms race, which could jeopardise global security. The Iranians suspect that the U.S. and Israel are behind attempts to disrupt the program as they want regime change. Resolving this issue what is vital for global security.


2. Syria

The Syrian crisis has raged for two and half years and has left 110, 000 dead and 6.2 million displaced. What started off as a peaceful revolution has turned into a bloody civil war, which is creating regional instability and spreading extremism. Iran is backing the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and the United States is seen to be backing the opposition. But despite their official positions, both sides have more in common with one another than meets the eye. Both the Iranians and the Americans insist there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis, and that there should be dialogue between the opposition and the regime. Both are concerned with the spread of Sunni extremism and fear a Sunni takeover if the Assad regime falls.    


3. Afghanistan

With an expected U.S. exit from Afghanistan in 2014, the success and stability of Afghanistan is a major concern for U.S. officials. The U.S. would like Afghanistan to achieve some stability, and not be a sanctuary for extremist groups. However, the country is far away from that goal. The U.S. presence has lead to widespread anger and anti-Americanism in neighboring Pakistan, which means the Pakistanis may not be entirely cooperative once the U.S. pulls out. Iran is a potential alternative to Pakistan as it shares a border with Afghanistan (unlike India) and has strong economic and cultural ties to the country. Iran wants a stable Afghanistan and is also concerned about Sunni extremism in the country. In 1998, Iran nearly went to war with Afghanistan and the Taliban after the Taliban murdered Iranian diplomats. 

4. Iraq

Iraq may not be a major issue in the U.S. media, but the country is sliding into another civil war. In July, 389 people were killed in Iraq as many Sunnis feel disenfranchised by the Shia-dominated government. The crisis in Iraq is linked to the crisis in Syria and both of these effect world energy prices and energy security. Iran maintains strong links to the Iraqi government and controls a huge chunk of the Iraqi economy. 

5. Israel/Palestine

Both the United States and Iran play a huge role in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as the U.S. is a staunch ally of Israel, and Iran sponsors Palestinian Hamas. Iran pays for construction projects and plays a big role in the Gazan economy. It also supplies Hamas with weapons and training. Despite this, Iran's position towards the conflict is misunderstood. Iran's position is the same as the Arab league's position. Israel will not be recognized until a viable Palestinian state has been set-up, and peace between the two has been firmly established. Iran cannot end the conflict, but it can encourage their Palestinian allies to negotiate settlements, provided the U.S. does the same to Israel and reigns in some of its behavior.