Professor discusses U.S. relations with Iran

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William Newmann, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and international studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, recently answered questions about the apparent thaw in United States relations with Iran. Newmann is addressing political change in Iran as part of a political science/international studies course this semester.

Is this a "rebranding" of Iran's image, an attempt to stall the rest of the world as Iran develops its nuclear capabilities or the beginning of actual reform?

That's the real question: Is this really a change in policy or is this just a new style from Iran? The new president (Hassan Rouhani) may be talking about negotiations, but does he intend for these negotiations to lead to an end to Iran's nuclear program or the hope that putting a new face on an old problem will lead the U.S. to accept Iran's nuclear program?  

Iran also may be hoping that extended negotiations would be a way to keep the U.S. from issuing any other ultimatums, while Iran completes its program. Then at some point during negotiations, Iran announces it is nuclear capable or test detonates an atomic bomb. At that point, U.S. options to deal with Iran become much more complicated.  

Why is Iran doing such an "about face" from the direction of its previous leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?  

The "about face" may be a result of the election. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not support Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani's leadership faction could be leaning toward the position that ultimately the future of Iran depends more on its economic power than its military power. If so, then the major obstacle to Iran's inclusion in the world economy is its nuclear program. It is possible that this is the beginning of a change in policy based on the notion that the future of clerical rule in Iran depends on economic growth not spreading revolution. If that is what is going on behind the scenes, we still don't know how far Khamenei will allow this to go. Rouhani could be sincere and also fail to get Khamenei's backing for any real changes in the nuclear program and the relationship with the US.

How does the U.S. respond to these overtures?

At this early stage, the U.S. really can only try to assess the sincerity of Rouhani while waiting to see real results during the negotiations. Maintaining the threat of force (President Obama's statement that all options are on the table) remains a part of that policy.

What kind of impact will this have on the ongoing strife in Syria?

It may be too early to tell if this has any impact on Syria. We could assume that Syria would not have agreed to give up its chemical weapons without some consultation with Iran. Then again, if Iran gave up its nuclear weapons, would the US maintain sanctions on it because of its role in Syria? Probably not.


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