Indiana University Bloomington

Hamilton: History with Iran won’t be easy to overcome

  • Oct. 18, 2013

By Rachel Bunn

Relations with Iran might be the best that they’ve been in years, but the levels of distrust and wariness will take years to erase.

This week’s negotiations has placed U.S.-Iranian relations on good footing, with the two countries releasing a positive joint statement -- the first time that’s happened in negotiations between the pair, according to former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.

“Right now, we have the best chance to make progress on the most challenging policy (within) American foreign policy and we may not get another chance,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton spoke on U.S. relations with the Middle Eastern nation at the Monroe County Public Library Thursday, one day after the two countries finished negotiations.

After 40 years of hostility, it was unlikely a deal would be hammered out in a few hours, but a positive statement is likely a step in the right direction.

Negotiations center around Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which could be used to power a reactor or a nuclear bomb. What America and other Western powers would like to see is a tempering down of the development of this enriched uranium.

“We want a limited, highly monitored, modest Iranian program,” Hamilton said. “We think it’s a better outcome for us. We think it’s a better outcome for Israel, a better outcome for the world.”

But there are no guarantees this would happen, and though there have been indications that Iran may pull back its nuclear programs, it’s unclear what that means, Hamilton said.

Both countries have reasons for the unease they feel about giving in to the requests of the other side, dating back to American support of Iran’s former shah, who the U.S. helped rise to power. And Iran’s anti-American, anti-Semitic stance has caused the U.S. and Israel concern about their national security.

“Keep in mind they’ve said a lot of tough things about the United States and Israel. We have reason to be wary of Iran, as they do us,” Hamilton said.

American diplomacy may take three non-mutually exclusive forms: the current negotiations; containment, or enforcing more harsh sanctions and isolating Iran until the power structure collapses; and war or other military action.

Should negotiations collapse, Hamilton said he is uneasy with military action and would prefer to see containment, but President Barack Obama has said he does not like this option. Similarly, Congress has taken a very hardline stance with Iran, which will likely affect negotiations.

“We’re gonna prevent, according to the president, a nuclear Iran,” Hamilton said. “We’ll go to war to prevent that -- that’s American policy today.”

Hamilton is encouraged by the talks, and thinks that better relations with Iran will improve the climate of the Middle East in general. But the relationship will take time to improve.

“Iran is a huge challenge to American foreign policy,” Hamilton said. “The relationship cannot be quickly transformed.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.