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The Case for Engagement: Building a Framework and Policy to Move U.S.-Iranian Relations Forward Open Access

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Abstract of ThesisThe Case for Engagement:Building a Framework and Policy to Move U.S.-Iranian Relations ForwardThe successful negotiation and implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement between the P5+1 world powers and the Islamic Republic of Iran has presents an important foreign policy opening for the United States. After 35 years of unconstructive policy and diplomatic near-silence, Washington has the chance to engage with Tehran toward mutual benefit. While obstacles to a more productive relationship between the United States and Iran remain considerable, this project attempts to chart a path forward.The United States has engaged with its enemies and rivals before, and the time is now right for it to do so with Iran. Beyond the opportunities presented by the JCPOA, other factors make engagement the timely choice: Iran’s political system and leadership is shifting, its economy is opening, and its security position in the Middle East continues to be pivotal and of the upmost importance to U.S. interests. Though there are arguments against moving towards any sort of relationship with Iran, this project finds them lacking in comparison to the possible benefits.First and most fundamentally, Iran must be understood and approached as a unique and complex nation rather than a monolithic, simplified state. By replacing tired language and assumptions about Iran with consideration of its history, culture, and governance, this project establishes a framework that considers unique factors that provide context to Iran’s society and government. Building upon this bedrock, the project proceeds to put forth policy steps in the realms of politics, economics, and security that would behoove Washington’s efforts to develop a more effective relationship with Tehran.There are immense challenges to these proposals, however. The governments of Iran and the United States have a storied history of conflict and have spent decades using poisonous messaging frames describing one another to their respective publics. They also have diametrically opposed security, geopolitical, and ideological interests, and each must incorporate and navigate complex relations with other states throughout the Middle East even while they negotiated directly. The project addresses these concerns as well as provides ‘hedge’ recommendations that will allow the United States to continue opposing Iran where it is morally and strategically necessary to do so.Ultimately, however, timing and the potential for political, economic, and security-based benefits build to a comprehensive case for engaging with Iran. By proceeding with principled resolve and considerable patience, policymakers can move forward from more than 35 years of stagnant policy and towards a vision that promotes a healthy integration of Iran into the international order and an aspirational vision of U.S. leadership in the world.

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