For nearly three decades, the enmity between the United States and Iran has been an established fact of Middle East politics. At various times, both countries have attempted to transcend their animosity and arrive at mutually acceptable compacts. However, there was never any urgency in either Washington or Tehran for a bold movement forward. In a peculiar sense, the domestic politics in both countries made continuation of their managed hostilities an acceptable alternative to the precarious task of revising relations.
Today, the altered political landscape of the Middle East and Iran’s accelerating nuclear program make such caution irresponsible if not reckless. The reality is that the civil wars in Iraq and Lebanon cannot be resolved, and the stability of the Persian Gulf cannot be ensured, without Iran’s constructive participation.
Yet the Islamic Republic of Iran — with its penchant for terrorism and its determination to acquire an advanced nuclear capability and play an increasingly assertive regional role — still confounds the United States. In official Washington, the essential objectives and interests of Tehran remain a mystery. Is Iran still a revolutionary state or just another medium-sized power seeking to project its influence in its immediate neighborhood? Are the growling mullahs determined to impose their theocratic template on an unwilling Middle East, or can there be an accommodation between the United States and Iran?