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US-Iran Relations: Has the Time Come?

Cyrus R. Vance (

Cyrus R. Vance (

Speech by The Honorable Cyrus R. Vance, Former US Secretary of State.

New York
January 13, 1999

Sponsored by the Asia Society, the American-Iranian Council, and the Asian-American Center of Queens College

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to join you for eftar this evening. Thank you Nick and Hooshang for a gracious introduction and for organizing this event. A group of distinguished colleagues will join me for the panel discussion that follows my comments.

Almost twenty years ago, as US Secretary of State, I participated in the decision to end diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, a painful and difficult step taken in response to the attack on our embassy in Tehran and the abduction of our diplomats during a period of revolutionary turmoil.

Months later, I took a second decision to resign in protest tot the failed military action, in order to bring about a change in policy toward the hostage crisis.

In the years that followed, I have watched from the sidelines with frustration and sadness as relations between our two countries plunges into increasing hostility, mistrust, name-calling, and mutual recrimination.

Tehran seemed incapable of setting aside its anger at America's regrettable role in the 1953 coup that removed Premier Mossadeq and restored the Shah to power. In response to that anger-and the actions it spawned-Washington would not come to terms with the new realities in post-revolutionary Iran.

The break in relations between the two countries and the ensuing stalemate has been costly. We opposed Iran during the long and destructive Iran-Iraq war. Our navy inadvertently and dismayingly shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft in 1987 resulting in substantial loss of life.

We froze Iran's assets, imposed economic sanctions, and prohibited our businessmen from trading with and investing in Iran. We have tried to limit other countries from engaging commercially with Iran.

These measures by successive American administrations were not taken in a vacuum or in bad faith. Rather these were reactions to real or perceived threats from Iran, or actions taken in its names.

But tonight, I would like to look to the future, not to the past. What I want to do is to articulate thoughts that I know are held by many in both countries, but which have not been formally and publicly stated due to the mutual mistrust that has developed over the years.