U.S.-Iran Relations ConferenceRegional & Global Dynamics
Sept. 8-10, 2005, Salt Lake City, Utah Inequality in the 21st Century
July 30th, Salt Lake City— Preparations are under way in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the hosting of the “2005 US-Iran Relations Conference: Regional and Global Dynamics”. This event is sponsored by the Middle East & Central Asia Conference Committee (www.utah.edu/meca), an academic group affiliated with the University of Utah. The media sponsor of the event is World Security Network (www.worldsecuritynetwork.com).
“We are bringing together close to 30 scholars and experts on the theme of US-Iran Relations, diplomacy and WMD,” says Kristian Alexander, vice chair of the Middle East & Central Asia Conference Committee. “Many of the participants coming to Salt Lake City for two days of intense scholarly discussions,” according to Alexander, “may very well hold opposing points of view on the issue of US-Iran relations.” Alexander says that hearing a variety of analytical reasoning “always makes for a good environment for intellectual growth.” This social scientific gathering will feature 24 presentations by individual scholars in at least six thematic panels ranging from history of citizen and diplomatic contacts, and civil society, to media relations and portrayal of US and Iran in each other’s newspapers, to detailed discussions and analyses of Iran’s alleged pursuit and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the US and European efforts in thwarting that objective. Participants in the US-Iran Relations Conference will represent institutions from across the US, Iran, UK, Norway, Turkey and Italy.
In addition to two dozen individual papers on the topic of US-Iran Relations (and another 100 presentations on the Middle East & Central Asia in a parallel event, also taking place during Sept. 8-10), the US-Iran Relations Conference will host two plenary lectures: One is a presentation by Dr. Stephen Zunes, the Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus (www.fpif.org), a source increasingly popular with scholars and policy makers. Zunes, who teaches international politics and US foreign policy at the University of San Francisco, will give a one-hour talk on the topic of: “Democracy, Nuclear Non-Proliferation and U.S. Policy in the Middle East”. Zune’s speech is expected to be a balanced, yet critical, analysis of US foreign policy toward the Middle East with specific focus on nuclear non-proliferation and US concerns about Iran’s alleged pursuit of WMD. “Though the public has heard about allegations of Iran’s desire to acquire WMD,” says Alexander, “very little effort has been put by the media to understand the reasoning and fears behind Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Zune’s presentation will take place on Thursday Sept. 8th at 10:30 am in the Union Building of the University of Utah. His lecture will be followed by 30 minutes of questions and answers.
Yet another plenary presentation is that of Dr. William O. Beeman, an anthropologist and renowned expert on Iran. Beeman, who teaches at Brown University, has recently published a book on the theme of US-Iran relations, and will present his ideas at the conference via a talk titled: “The ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Mad Mullahs’: What of the Future of US-Iran Relations?” Beeman will analyze the mutual rhetoric of the two governments against each other. He will base his arguments on his extensive decades-long research on the topic in addition to first-hand data from field interviews with officials, scholars and ordinary citizens in Iran during his recent travels in the Middle East. M. J. Fischer, a professor at MIT, has called Beeman’s latest book on US-Iran relations a “must reading for diplomats, policy wonks, and concerned citizens.” Beeman, who in addition to Iran also travels regularly to Central Asia, will give his presentation at the University of Utah on Saturday Sept. 10th at 11:00 am in the Union Building. He will also be part of a panel on “New Directions for Authoritarianism and Democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia”, which will be held on Friday Sept. 9th at 10:30 am also in the Union Building of the University. Other distinguished individuals on the same panel will be Dr. Stephen Zunes (mentioned above); Dr. Shireen T. Hunter, the Director of the Islam Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. (www.csis.org); and at least one ambassador to the US from the Middle East or Central Asia. Hunter, who has written extensively on Islam and the post-Soviet Central Asian states, will be in Salt Lake City for a parallel event: The 2005 Middle East & Central Asia Politics, Economics, and Society Conference: Authoritarianism and Democracy in the Age of Globalization, Sept. 8-10, University of Utah (www.utah.edu/meca).
(Background information: Relationships between the United States and Iran were severed about a quarter of a century ago shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and during an ensuing hostage-taking (1979-81) incidence involving US diplomats working in the American Embassy in Tehran and young Islamist militants. Since that infamous episode, there have been only limited contacts between the governments of US and Iran. There have been some amount of clandestine negotiations between the two and sale of military hardware by the US to Iran (during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88), and moderate sales of Iranian petroleum (often indirectly), pistachios and rugs to the US. Citing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambitions to develop its nuclear technology for supposed belligerent ends, alleged Iranian involvement with international terrorism and the dismal human rights record of Iran, the US has had an extended economic embargo on Iran, originally imposed during President Carter’s tenure as a result of the hostage-taking affair. The embargo was loosened during the Clinton era when very limited imports of Iranian goods to the US (such as rugs and pistachios) were allowed. The spirit of mistrust between the two states, however, begun in the early days of the Islamic revolution of Iran, has continued in the 21st century. Since the ascendancy of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty, powerful, and often conservative, forces both in Washington and Tehran have perpetuated an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, which has virtually lead to no official contacts between the two states and only limited citizen and civil society interactions between the two. The lack of diplomatic relationship and the existence of hostility between US and Iran are also evident by the rhetoric used by politicians on both sides: Whereas, for example, in 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini referred to the US as the “Great Satan”, in 2002 President George W. Bush included Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of an “Axis of Evil”.)