Security Cooperation with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities

The lengthy process of negotiating, approving, and implementing a nuclear agreement with Iran has underscored how Iranian relations with the rest of the world can have major effects on international security—for both good and bad. Successfully implementing the nuclear deal and increasing cooperation between Iran, the major powers, and Iran’s regional neighbors could resolve some of the most vexing security problems in the Middle East and promote peace and prosperity on a broader scale. Failure to cooperate could destabilize the region, reinforce preexisting fears and assumptions, and undermine global security. Yet, cooperation is difficult to achieve and sustain, due to real differences of interests, values, and political systems, and also to misperceptions and misunderstandings.

This project seeks to improve U.S. and European security policy making toward Iran by increasing public and official understanding of the concerns and perspectives of Iran’s leaders and citizens. What are Iran’s security concerns and objectives? How do the Iranian government and public view the actions and motivations of other regional actors, including the United States and European powers? And how do Iranian religious beliefs and public opinion affect official policy decisions, to the extent that they do at all? The project also addresses how the assumptions of American, European, and other officials and publics about Iran affect their willingness and ability to communicate and cooperate with Tehran. In particular, how do domestic political and security concerns in these countries affect the ability of officials to pursue desirable policies with Iran?

CISSM’s Iran project has had three main components to date. It began with a 2013 analysis of how Western news coverage not only reflects, but also shapes, US and European policy debates about Iran’s nuclear program. In 2014 CISSM initiated a series of public opinion studies of American and Iranian publics. Some of these studies have focused primarily on the nuclear negotiations and agreement between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia (the so-called P5+1); others have looked at broader security, political, and economic issues. CISSM has also helped to facilitate religious exchanges between American and Iranian clergy. It also relates to several broader projects at CISSM, such as the Nuclear Past, Present, and Future project and the Morality and Security project.

Security cooperation between Iran, the United States, and other Western and Mideast nations might not always be possible or desirable, but correcting misperceptions and deepening understanding of security policies on all sides could increase the likelihood and impact of cooperation when it is. 

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