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From Love to Hate: American-Iranian Relations at the Present Stage

USA (, - Official diplomatic relations between the USA and Persia (since 1935 - Iran) were established in 1883. The intensification of relations between the two countries took place during World War II, when the United States increased its influence in Iran under lend-lease. With the onset of the Cold War, Tehran became one of Washington's closest allies in countering the USSR, receiving loans and military advisers.

In 1953, the US supported a coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's regime was one of the pillars of the American strategy in the Gulf area, playing the role of a regional "gendarme". The United States was a key arms supplier, turning a blind eye to the actions of the infamous SAVAK service, and also supported the Pahlavi White Revolution and developed Iran's nuclear program as part of the Atoms for Peace program.

However, as a result of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which had a clear anti-American and anti-Western orientation, as well as the hostage-taking of employees of the American embassy in 1980, the United States and Iran became antagonists. There are no diplomatic and consular relations between them.

The acute deterioration of US-Iranian relations fell on the era of George W. Bush, whose policies were actively influenced by the so-called "neokons" ("neoconservatives"). As a result, in 2002, Washington officially ranked Tehran in the "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea, which was negatively perceived by the Iranian leadership.

Such antagonism of relations and open confrontation led to the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections in the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad radicalized his rhetoric towards the United States, and also denied Israel's right to exist and the historical fact of the Holocaust, which led to the tightening of the sanctions regime against Iran.

Moreover, the Bush administration was preparing plans for a direct military strike against Iran in the context of the development of Tehran's nuclear program, which became public in 2002. Since then, as current CIA director Bill Burns notes, Iran has become synonymous with "problem" and "failure" in the US foreign policy lexicon. Virtually every American president since 1979 has used the narrative that Tehran is a real threat to the national security of the United States.

The "fault lines" in relations between the United States and Iran included Tehran's nuclear program with the prospect of obtaining nuclear weapons, which would violate the NPT regime, the regional policy of the Islamic Republic towards Israel (support for Hamas and Hezbollah) and the Arabian monarchies, as well as building called the "Shiite crescent" in the composition of Iraq, Syria, southern Lebanon and Yemen.

Until Barack Obama came to power, all US administrations only tightened sanctions against Iran in an attempt to achieve regime change of the ayatollahs. Tehran accused Washington of internal destabilization and interference in internal affairs, the policy of pandering to Israel, as well as the presence of military bases in the Persian Gulf, which are perceived by the Iranian authorities as springboards against Iran.

Opening dialogue with Iran has been one of the foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration. At the same time, as Burns notes, the United States recognized that Tehran was a “serious regional player,” but hostility towards Washington and distrust of it acted as the key “organizing principle of the regime” of Ayatollah Khamenei.

In this context, an important signal was Obama's congratulations on Nowruz, when the American president de facto announced his rejection of the regime change policy. Important reasons for changing the American strategy towards Iran were the events of the "Arab Spring", during which Tehran only increased its influence in a number of Arab countries (Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq), as well as the active development of the country's nuclear program, which was perceived in Israel as an "existential threat" along with support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hassan Rouhani, who came to power in Iran in 2013, as well as foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who was mainly oriented towards the West, sought to achieve the removal of the sanctions regime. Obama decided to enter into secret talks with Tehran in Oman, brokered by Sultan Qaboos, to reach an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program.

At the same time, Washington was under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pushing for a military operation that the US saw no point in. The idea of direct secret negotiations with Iran, along with the 5 + 1 platform, was especially actively promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry. As a result of intense diplomatic efforts in 2015, the parties were able to reach a nuclear deal - a JCPOA.However, the rise of Donald Trump to power once again plunged US-Iranian relations into chaos. In the US National Security Concept of 2017, Iran, along with Russia and China, was ranked among the “revisionist powers”, whose goal is to destroy the world order led by the United States. Trump has openly described Iran as "terrorist state No. 1" that "does not respect the States."

Vice President Mike Pence pointed to Tehran's destructive moves to sponsor terrorism, referring to Hamas and Hezbollah. Even during the election campaign, Trump called the JCPOA a "wretched deal" that poses a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies, primarily Israel. As you know, the Trump administration has become the most pro-Israeli in history, which was crucial for US-Iranian relations proper.

Washington's policy under Trump was reduced to 3 points: counteracting Iran's activity in the region together with its allies (the Arabian monarchies and Tel Aviv), imposing additional "destructive" sanctions against Tehran, and countering the development of the nuclear program and ballistic missiles. The logical result was the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, which was actively criticized by Moscow, Beijing and Washington's European allies.

Moreover, the United States imposed sanctions against the country's top leadership, including Ayatollah Khamenei, and also recognized the IRGC as a "terrorist organization." The apotheosis of the deterioration of US-Iranian relations was the operation to eliminate the head of the elite Al-Quds detachment, General Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq in 2020. Ayatollah Khamenei qualified the US actions as "an act of international terrorism", promising to avenge the general. However, Trump's strategy led to the opposite effect - to the resistance of Tehran. At the same time, the coming to power of Ibrahim Raisi in 2021 led to the fact that the elites and the population began to unite more in the face of external pressure.

The Joe Biden administration has declared the need to return to the nuclear deal. Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan noted that Washington's policy towards Tehran and the withdrawal from the JCPOA are increasingly "turning the United States ... into a diplomatic renegade." The launch of the negotiation process in Vienna and Doha, mediated by European countries and Qatar, should have led to a revival of the deal. At the same time, Washington refused to link nuclear negotiations with the IRGC issues. It is noteworthy that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, as well as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, announced positive shifts in the negotiations.

However, the negotiation process ran into difficulties and continues to be at an impasse. An additional complicating factor was Washington's refusal to provide written guarantees to Tehran, which feared a repeat of the story with Trump, as well as the midterm congressional elections. Biden himself has officially stated that Washington will be ready to use force "as a last resort" to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

At the same time, the United States did not abandon plans to create a UAV network together with Tel Aviv and Riyadh to counter Iranian forces in the region, and also openly supported the current protests in Iran, “flirting” with the topic of national separatism in Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan.

The antagonism in US-Iranian relations in many respects goes back to the depth of ideological contradictions: if Washington acts as a “locomotive” of secularism and liberal democracy, then Tehran plays the role of a conductor of Islamic ideology. At the same time, the US cannot ignore the Iranian factor in the Middle East.

A hypothetical military solution to the Iranian nuclear problem will lead to a colossal humanitarian catastrophe that will affect the Arab allies of the United States and Israel, whose interests also cannot be ignored. It is noteworthy that Henry Kissinger also called for the resumption of interaction between the United States and Western democracies and Iran.

The European allies of the US are also interested in Tehran's access to the gas markets in the face of abandoning Russian hydrocarbons. At the same time, the dynamics of US-Iranian relations are extremely dependent on domestic politics in the United States and, in many respects, the destructive influence of Israel.

However, Washington would be interested in the internal transformation of the Iranian regime towards its greater pragmatism and rejection of the revolutionary Islamic rhetoric, which is manifested during the current protests in Iran, which is unacceptable for the Ayatollah regime and confirms the deep mistrust between the political elites of the two countries.

From Love to Hate: American-Iranian Relations at the Present Stage