Iran has historically been pictured in the media as the Big Bad Wolf on the other side of the earth, cooking up nuclear weapons so it can blow Israel’s house down.
But the truth is, while it may be on the other side of the earth — 7,000 miles away to be exact — the U.S. and Iran were once friendly.
Before Iran’s nuclear program, Clinton’s oil sanctions, the Tehran embassy hostage situation and the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the U.S. and Iranian leaders were once supportive of each other.
Iran’s U.S. backed leader, the Shah, wanted to bring his country economic prosperity and modernity like the West. He wanted to expel his country of communist influence and even aspired to create a secularist society, a difficult task for a deeply religious Muslim country with a large conservative Shi’a population.
But his ambitions broke the country into civil war and when the extremists won, the U.S.’s relationship with Iran soured.
Since the revolution, Iran has become a villainous character in American media, especially with the development of its nuclear program.
While the world pledges that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, the country’s leaders maintain that they’re just looking to have nuclear power for peaceful means. India, Pakistan and Romania are among a few of the most corrupt countries in the world, but they have nuclear programs — so why not Iran? At least, that’s their argument.
Since Obama came to office with his optimism for diplomacy and pledge to engage the world’s leaders, there hadn’t been much word on the relationship … at least nothing beyond the occasional tit-for-tat war with Israel.
Iran’s July election of the moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, against the conservative-backed Mohammad Ghalibaf for the presidency proved a pivotal point in Iran, representing a turning point in Iranian leadership. Rouhani, who won almost 51 percent of the vote — significantly more all five other five candidates — ran on a platform of restoring civil rights, improving the country’s economy and improving relations with the West.
The past month has already shown the fruits of a diplomatic relationship between the two leaders.
Two weeks ago, Rouhani agreed to his first international interview in over eight years with an American journalist, NBC News’ Ann Curry. His decision to speak with Americans before the rest of the world signifies his commitment to improve U.S.-Iranian relations.
“It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future. I believe the leaders in all countries could think in their national interest and they should not be under the influence of pressure groups,” said Rouhani during the interview. “I hope to witness such an atmosphere in the future.”
A month before the interview, President Obama had sent a letter to the president-elect offering him congratulations and a possibility of resolving the nuclear impasse if Iran can prove that its atomic program is peaceful.
With both leaders open to the possibility of diplomatic relations, the icy relationship has begun to thaw for the first time in over 30 years.
On Friday, the two presidents communicated directly for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
“The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York: While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive agreement.”
The U.S. also returned an ancient Iranian artifact, a 2,700-year-old ceremonial drinking chalice that was smuggled to the states from Iran in 2003. For the past 10 years it had been stuck in “bureaucratic limbo” as a token of their diplomatic stalemate.
Whether this relationship will last and how long is an uncertain question, especially since it’s already being heavily criticized within the Iranian government. But it appears as though Iran’s changing political tide may usher in a period of amicability absent from the relationship for the past 40 years.
Now one question is how will Israel handle the U.S.’s new friendship with the Big Bad Wolf?