Video: Karim Sadjadpour Sees 'Plenty of Room for Cooperation' Between US and Iran

Nicholas Burns (R) speaks with Karim Sadjadpour (2nd from R) at the Aspen Ideas Festival on July 2, 2015. Gen. David Petraeus (L) and Vali Nasr (R) also took part in the panel. (2 min., 16 sec.)

Now that Iran and the P5+1 powers have reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, what does the future of Iran-U.S. relations look like? Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate with the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will join Amb. Frank Wisner to discuss the strategic implications of the deal at an Asia Society Policy Institute event on July 22 in New York. Sadjadpour recently shared his insights on Iran-U.S. relations during a July 2 panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Excerpts from his remarks are presented below.

On July 22 at Asia Society New York, Karim Sadjadpour will join Amb. Frank Wisner to discuss U.S.-Iran relations after the nuclear talks. Learn more

On tactical cooperation and strategic potential in U.S.-Iran relations:

I think that there’s two quotes from Henry Kissinger that wonderfully capture U.S. policy dilemmas vis-à-vis Iran. Kissinger said, “There are few nations in the world with whom the United States has more common interests and less reasons to quarrel than Iran.” But “Iran has to decide whether it’s a nation or a cause.” And the reality is that since 1979 the U.S. and Iran have actually had numerous common interests. There was the Soviet Union, there was Saddam Hussein, there was the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and now ISIS. And there have been moments of tactical cooperation, but that strategic enmity has endured.

I think precisely for the reason that General [David] Petraeus was talking about, one of the other paradoxes of Iran is that the most powerful Iranian officials are inaccessible and the most accessible Iranian officials aren’t powerful. So Javad Zarif, who is the Iranian foreign minister, studied not far from here at the University of Denver, and he shows up in Davos. [General] Qasem Soleimani doesn’t show in Davos. He shows up in Tikrit, and in Damascus.

I think that when and if Iran starts to see itself as a nation-state, to prioritize its national interests and economic interests, there’s plenty of room for cooperation between the U.S. and Iran. But as long as Iran continues to see itself as a revolutionary cause in opposition to U.S. influence, in opposition to Israel’s existence — this is something I work [on] a lot with members of Congress, something which animates them about Iran: Iran’s Holocaust denial, its support for groups like Hezbollah, Hamas. As long as those Iranian policies remain, I think at most we’re going to be able to have tactical cooperation, but it’s not going to turn into something more strategic and enduring.

On Washington’s rationale for patient engagement:

Our engagement with Iran, dialoguing with Iran shouldn’t be considered a gift to the regime. It’s not because we like them. In fact, these hardline elements in Iran really don’t want to be engaged. They’ve thrived in isolation. Enmity towards the United States has become an inextricable part of their identity, and I think by continuing to engage them, if they don’t reciprocate, you expose the fact that the problem lies in Tehran more than Washington.

On economic integration and Iranian politics:

I think it’s also important to talk about Iran not as a nuclear program with 80 million people, but Iran as 80 million people with a nuclear program. The paradox of Iran is a regime whose hardline elements have sought to emulate North Korea and a society which really aspires to be like South Korea. They want to be integrated; they want to be economically prosperous. And I think if this deal happens, and it helps to re-integrate Iran politically into the global economy, that will empower those more moderate forces in Iran, at least over the medium and long term, and potentially weaken some of these hardline forces that have really thrived in isolation the same way Kim Jong-Un and Fidel Castro have thrived in isolation.  

About the Author

Profile picture for user Rui Zhong
Rui Zhong is an intern with the Asia Society Policy Institute and is based in Washington, D.C. She is studying toward a master’s degree from SAIS at Johns Hopkins University.