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A Bridge Too Far.

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Effective communication is pivotal to developing good diplomatic relations. Unfortunately for Iran and the United States strong communication appears to be a long shot. A major sticking point in the relations between both countries is that they are predominantly handled by other countries. Switzerland holds the reins for America's relations with Iran while Pakistan has taken charge of Iran's relations with the U.S.

In the absence of clear and effective channels of communication it is unlikely that relations between both countries can be put right. On the contrary diplomatic ties have been significantly hampered and the stage is set for an unspoken conflict.

More often than not the U.S. and Iran have no other option but to rely on these indirect modes of communication to improve ties. This is particularly unfortunate as diplomatic relations between the countries go as far back as 1856.Nevertheless maintaining strong ties has emerged as the need of the hour and must be tackled in an efficient manner.

It is difficult to understand the importance of building bridges between Iran and the U.S. without focusing on the rise of Islamic State militancy in the region. The IS is a group of Sunni Muslims who have been in conflict with Iran's Shiite community for many years. Faced with this new threat the U.S. has failed to extend support or coordinate with Iran in combating the IS militants. To the contrary President Barack Obama has only indirectly communicated with Iran to tackle the crisis.

In a similar vein the U.S. has in some respects strictly upheld its loyalties and political communities. Unfortunately the desire to stick to their guns has soured diplomatic relations between both countries.

For instance Iran's relations with its neighbor Syria have caused the U.S. to raise it eyebrows and take a backseat to strengthen ties. Although Iran shares a religious affinity with Syrian rulers the U.S. views the latter with a mixture of uncertainty and doubt. The cycle of distrust has been accelerated by America's willingness to fund and train groups to topple the Syrian dictatorship. As a result Iran's religious link with Syria and the U.S.' inflexible attitude have complicated relations between both countries.

Despite the shadow of defeat that looms large there is a beacon of hope which could salvage ties between Iran and the U.S. A large number of students from Iran study at American universities and the figures have doubled since 2009. Unfortunately this advantage has not been capitalized on. Moreover the inflow of students operates under a strict visa regime which potentially frustrates diplomatic ties.

Consequently Iran and the U.S. are constantly suspended between a series of issues which have been overshadowed by a tradition of silence.

Another pressing concern is the unending deadlock in the nuclear talks. A deadline was set for November 24 2014. However the specter of failure in previous deliberations has impacted progress. Moreover the rise of the IS in Iraq and the emergence of miscreants who wish to thwart a potential nuclear agreement has also weakened relations.

The negotiation process has been marred with constant delays. Although Obama viewed the nuclear talks as a means of building bridges between both countries this is nothing more than a paper promise. On the other hand Iran shares similar goals with the U.S.

Unfortunately both countries are unable to join hands and develop a suitable way forward due to a series of political factors. For instance America and Iran are unable to come together and brainstorm a solution to defeat the IS owing to the U.S.' commitment to oust the Syrian dictatorship.

Furthermore President Obama has decided to take diplomatic steps carefully and watchfully. With mounting demands to get rid of Syria's dictatorship the emergence of stronger U.S.-Iran relations could send a powerful and somewhat contradictory message. In order to avoid further uncertainty the U.S. president has adopted a tactic that will not adversely impact the country's image.

It is also widely believed that several decades of mistrust have produced a network of doubts that weighs heavily on nuclear talks. The memories of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the hostage situation in the U.S. Embassy are still afresh. For their part the people of Iran have not forgotten America's wholehearted support for the 1953 coup to oust former prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq. As a result relations between the two countries seem to have reached a point of no return.

For the past 14 years the U.S. has made consistent efforts to rectify the damage. However it has simultaneously heightened pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions for sponsoring militant groups backing anti-Israel groups and orchestrating human rights abuses.

Although former U.S. President George Bush made repeated attempts to spew hatred against Iran he simultaneously sought to mend ties with the country. He reversed the decision to not participate in the nuclear talks. He also sent his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to restore U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran.

However with the arrival of President Obama hostilities from Iran's political leadership threatened to open a Pandora's Box. The U.S. president had growing concerns over the country's nuclear capacity and was particularly displeased at the detention of American citizens in Iran. As Obama's first stint in power drew to a close sanctions on Iran were gradually extended.

The appointment of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's president was a major turning point. It urged Obama to foster stronger relations with Iran. The U.S. president initiated discussions with Iran in 2013 and subsequently agreed to negotiate on an interim nuclear deal.

However it is important to recall that diplomatic relations can only be strengthened if a holistic approach is adopted. Relying solely on a nuclear agreement may not be the most effective means to build bridges. This is predominantly because both sides can pull out of such arrangements with comparative ease. On the contrary both sides should bury the hatchet and erase the uncertainty by developing stronger modes of communication. Only then can the stumbling blocks which have undermined ties between Iran and the U.S. be overcome.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jan 31, 2015
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