Tehran and Washington will be inclined to talk about and possibly cooperate with regard to their common interests.
The marathon nuclear talks between Iran and the United States have finally born fruit, the two sides having reached a nuclear agreement on July 14, 2015. This development is considered a major turning point in the history of Iran’s relations with the United States since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Therefore, Iranian leaders have described it as a point of departure that will lead to a thaw in bilateral relations between the two countries. Before the agreement, US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to the office of Iran’s representative in the United Nations in New York, which is symbolically considered as part of the Iranian territory, to show that a new political will exists in the United States for the reduction of tensions with Iran.
The two sides also sent positive signals to each other about changing the buildings of their interests sections. While remaining cautious about making optimistic remarks on the nuclear deal, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said, “Of course, negotiations on the nuclear issue are just an experience. If the opposite side gives up its erratic behavior, this experience can be generalized to other issues.” In March, President Hassan Rouhani emphasized that the nuclear talks are just a first step toward constructive interaction with the world. He added, “We want to improve our relations with countries with whom we have cold relations now, and even with countries that we possibly have tensions with, we are seeking to end tension and animosity because we believe that this cooperation is to everybody’s benefit.”
Therefore, it seems that following the conclusion of the nuclear deal, we must expect important developments in Iran’s relations with the United States. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of Iran’s Expediency Council, described this development as shattering the taboo of direct talks with the United States. He even went as far as noting that the reopening of the US embassy in Tehran was possible, adding that such a change would create a positive attitude toward the United States among Iranians.
However, between simplistic optimism and negative pessimism toward the future outlook of Iran-US relations, it would be better to choose a middle way.
In reality, Iran and the United States have overcome the most important reason for tensions in their relations by clinching the nuclear agreement. The two countries have different viewpoints on other issues such as human rights, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the fate of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, and regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and their differences are severe. However, they have common interests in the restoration of security to Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in fighting extremism, establishing security in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden—by fighting against pirates—and also in scientific and academic fields. In the world of politics, rivalry and differences are normal. The experience of the nuclear agreement may have caused the two countries to reach the conclusion that sitting at the negotiating table and engaging in serious negotiations is better than exchanging messages or posing threats through intermediaries.
On the other hand, past doubts are still overshadowing the minds of both countries’ decision-makers. Steven L. Spiegel and Louis Cantori, two prominent researchers of international relations, believe that the background of relations between two counties in terms of the intensity of hostility will certainly affect the current and future situation of their ties. Therefore, nobody can expect an immediate opening in relations between Iran and the United States in view of the tumultuous history of their political relations. At any rate, relations with the United States have not been worse than Germany’s relations with Britain and France in the height of the World War II. Also, it is noteworthy that the hostility and animosity that once existed between the United States and Cuba or Vietnam is now gone. Certainly, the background of relations can simply slow down the pace of improvement, not totally obstruct it. If relations between countries are considered as consisting of six phases, namely: 1) Strategic, 2) Good, 3) Normal, 4) Thermidor, 5) Armed peace, and 6) War; it seems that following the nuclear deal, relations between Iran and the United States will get promoted from the state of armed peace to thermidor, or the situation that Trita Parsi has described as truce.
At least the shadow of war and threat has left Iran and the region in the light of Tehran-Washington relations, and the two sides will not continue demonizing each other anymore. Although this agreement may mark the beginning of bilateral cooperation in various fields, it should not be expected to take the two countries’ relations to a normal state or lead to cooperation and agreement in other fields in the short run. Just like what happened after the French Revolution, the relations between Iran and the United States will be promoted to a state of thermidor, which means the end of hostility between Tehran and Washington. In this state, warmongers will have no further say, though in a state of thermidor, relations between the two countries would not be necessarily normal.
In this state, there are still many obstacles (especially domestic) to normalization of relations between Iran and the United States in order to prevent bilateral relations from getting promoted from a state of thermidor to a normal situation in the near future. In addition, trade plays an important role in reducing hostilities among countries. However, US sanctions that were implemented before the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program erupted will not be removed. Hence, the businesspeople and ordinary people in the two countries will be deprived of trade exchanges, and this will cause many limitations for official diplomacy between Tehran and Washington. A poll conducted by the University of Maryland showed that more than 60 percent of the American people support a nuclear agreement and normalization of relations between Iran and the United States. Tehran and Washington will be inclined to talk about and possibly cooperate with regard to their common interests. Of course, this does not mean that the two sides are very eager for this cooperation, but political exigencies might force them to engage in this cooperation.