- Under President George W. Bush, the United States and Iran twice engaged in extended and substantive diplomatic talks.
- In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, bilateral U.S.-Iranian contacts produced the most significant cooperation since the 1979 revolution, as Iranian officials helped the United States form a new Afghan government. Despite this, only weeks later, President Bush included Iran in the “axis of evil,” and threatened to use force to halt its nuclear program.
- Iran persisted for more than a year to offer assistance to the United States, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq. But Washington failed to accept any of Tehran’s offers.
- In 2007, talks were held between top U.S. and Iranian envoys in Iraq. These exchanges were highly confrontational, but Iranian behavior in Iraq did moderate somewhat thereafter.
- During his first year in office, President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to open a high-level dialogue with Iran, while at the same time seeking to bypass the populist and confrontational President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in favor of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
- The 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani and the appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister created a new opportunity for Iranian-American engagement, initially focused almost exclusively on nuclear issues.
- If the final nuclear agreement can be implemented, the two sides may gradually extend their dialogue to other issues, notably Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. But domestic opposition on both sides will likely restrict the pace of any further collaboration. The United States will also be constrained by the concerns of its Arab allies.
- Having reached a final nuclear deal, the United States and Iran are likely to gradually extend their dialogue to other issues. But both sides will have to contend with domestic opposition to greater engagement.
- Some level of agreement between Washington and Tehran will be essential to any effort to defeat the Islamic State, end the civil war in Syria and prevent the complete disintegration of Iraq.
Photo credits: Ahmadinejad via President.ir; U.N. logo via Wikimedia Commons [public domain]
This chapter was originally published in 2010, and is updated as of August 2015.
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The world’s most comprehensive website on Iran, “The Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in concise chapters on politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and the nuclear program. It chronicles events under six U.S. presidents. It also has leader bios, timelines, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. New articles are added at the top.