On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, AsiaSociety.org experts weigh in on the attacks and their aftermath.
To many people's surprise, the government of Iran was one of the first to send condolences to the United States following 9/11. Iran's then-president Mohammad Khatami publicly condemned the attacks and saw the potential of the post-9/11 era as a time to move Iran’s foreign policy in a more conciliatory direction with the U.S. and the West generally. Tehran's long-held view of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban as ideological enemies provided a clear-cut point of commonality with Washington. From this basis, a remarkable period of U.S.-Iran cooperation began as Iran joined the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Iran then participated in the U.S.-sponsored Bonn Conference and helped to establish a new Afghan government that took office in December 2001. In Bonn, Iranian officials even approached their U.S. counterparts about engaging in dialogue on broader issues.
But this new-found basis of cooperation quickly faded when President George W. Bush called Iran part an "axis of evil," alongside Iraq and North Korea, in late January 2002. In the ensuing years, both sides have made tentative gestures to each other in hopes of launching rapprochement, but all of these attempts have failed. Today, the U.S.-Iran relationship has reached a dangerous standoff and the specter of violent confrontation hangs in the air. Given the current state of the relationship, the possibility of a ‘grand bargain’ seems removed from reality. But revitalizing tactical cooperation on a common strategic interest — stabilizing Afghanistan — may be plausible.
With the gradual drawdown of U.S. forces up to 2014, the Obama administration now has a clear imperative to pursue a regional dialogue focused on strengthening cooperation among Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran. Two opportunities are approaching: A meeting on the future of Afghanistan to be held in November in Istanbul, where participants will elaborate on regional guarantees, and the Bonn +10 Conference to be held in December in Germany, where the international community will lay out economic initiatives and endorse the actions taken in Istanbul. U.S.-Iran engagement in this regional context would help to buoy both efforts.
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching and with Osama bin Laden killed, a lot of pundits and probably some people in the U.S. feel that, though very tragic, 9/11 is history now. But for Afghans, the ideas and followers that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda nurtured are still a daily fact of life. Afghans, including women and children, are still being brutalized by those elements who masterminded and supported the 9/11 attacks.
Afghans from different walks of live, rural and urban, feel that the blood we and the U.S. shed together in defeating the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan has bound our two nations and created a shared history over the last 10 years — sacrifices for a common cause. These ties could be strengthened further through a long-term strategic partnership. And, this could be one of the means for building further confidence in Afghans: That in their fight to establish a democratic, stable and terrorist-free country, and against their foes both at home and inside Iran and Pakistan who every day cook up new terrorist attacks against us, we will not be left alone once again.