Former Secretary of State lectures on U.S.-Iran relationsand Tammy Tseng | Oct 14, 2014
Former Secretary of State James Baker ’52 spoke on Tuesday about the nature of American-Iranian relations during his time in office as well as recent developments and his predictions forfuture relations between the United States and Iraq. He was the U.S. Secretary of State between 1989 and 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration.“I personally remain cautiously optimistic — both about an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programand the prospect of a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations,” Baker said.
Baker traced the timeline of the U.S.-Iran relationship prior to and during his stint asSecretary of State, mentioning the overthrow of the Iranian Shah in 1979, the 444-day-long hostage crisis, and the U.S. policy of dual containment aimed at Iran and Iraq.
According to Baker, if Iran were to utilize its strengths in size, population and economy to playa critical role in promoting peace in the Middle East, stabilization in the region could bepossible.
Baker noted that any rapprochement between the United States and Iran would be difficult. Hesaid that diplomacy is the best avenue to forestall bad outcomes and encouraged the audience tosupport current diplomatic efforts.
“Our best hope is that the two countries can begin looking forward,” Baker said.“The history of U.S.-Iranian relations since the Islamic revolution is in many ways a great tragedy.And that history itself will be perhaps the greatest obstacle to improving relations."
Baker also noted that a close public association between the United States and Iran would be problematicfor both countries at the present time.
However, Iran’s movement toward increasing social tolerance and political openness — specifically toward greater democracy and support of human rights — would improve Iran’simage in the United States, Baker said. He also said that it might lead to a less anti-American governmentin Tehran.
The current concerns of the United States about Iran are two-pronged, encompassing Tehran’s nuclear agendaand the threat currently posed in Iraq by the Islamic State group, Baker said.
Regarding the first concern, the United States, its allies, and the United Nationshave imposed a series of ever-tougher sanctions since 2006 aimed at limiting Tehran’s access to nucleartechnology. Last November, talks between the P5+1 — a group of six countries consisting of the United States, Russia, China, UnitedKingdom, France and Germany — and Iran culminated in an agreement to temporarily freeze partsof Iran’s nuclear program in return for modest sanctions. The agreement has been extended toNov. 24 of this year in hopes that the two sides will be able to negotiate a final accord.
According to Baker, failure to reach such an accord may eventually lead to a decision by the United States to take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
“This would not be in anybody’s interest, and it would push back of course any possible U.S.-Iranian rapport by years, if not decades,” Baker said.
On the second front, Baker said, U.S. President Barack Obama is currently attempting to generate a coalition ofcountries to contain the threat of the Islamic State group. While Iran is not formally amember of this coalition, Tehran is a key player in the struggle against Islamic State group.
“We should be prepared to cooperate with Iran, tacitly, if necessary — to cooperate with anti-ISISefforts but not at the cost of losing our Sunni Arabian allies,” he said. “I would be very surprisedif we’re not already coordinating some of our actions with Iran.”
Baker said that there are too many areas of contention between the United States and Iran to establish aformal alliance, but that by cooperating they would be presenting an informal but pragmaticresponse to a specific challenge.
“I, for one, supported the Obama administration to the hilt in opening discussions with Iran,” hesaid.
The lecture, titled “Iran: 35 Years After the Revolution,” was sponsored by the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies as their inaugural lecture and took place inMcCormick 101 at 5 p.m. A reception followed the lecture.