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Etched in Mistrust: Continuity and Change in U.S.-Iran Nuclear Negotiations (1969–1978)
This working paper tackles the following questions: How did the United States’ security interests in the Middle East shape its perceptions toward Iran’s nuclear program? How did Iran’s evolving regional interests influence the direction of the country’s nuclear program? I argue that America’s drive to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful began decades before the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Therefore, the main cause of concern for the U.S. is not necessarily the nature of the regime in Iran, but a commitment to its nonproliferation strategy and maintaining the broader Middle East’s regional balance of power. I adopt a bureaucratic politics model to push back against the realist approaches to international relations that have dominated the discourse. The bureaucratic framework provides us with a clearer explanation of the multi-layered process of negotiations and allows us to consider the agency of policy implementers. In conjunction to a number of secondary sources, I utilize a series of declassified primary source documents from the 1970s on the nuclear negotiations from the Ford and Carter Administrations such as State Department and Tehran Embassy cables; White House and National Security Council memoranda; and Central Intelligence Agency studies published by the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. Based on my analysis of the sources, it is unlikely that Iran’s nuclear program was born with an aim toward weaponization. The major driving force behind Iran’s approach at the time appears to have been three-pronged: the nuclear pursuit as a means for gaining domestic and international legitimacy; as an eventual alternative for fossil fuels; and regional competition with countries such as Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and India. Despite the prevailing arguments in the U.S. foreign policy circles, the current deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program is not solely due to the nature of the revolutionary regime in Tehran. Since the inception of the program, Washington has been concerned about the country’s ultimate objective and has feared the militarization of the technology. Intricate domestic and regional dynamics have also played a key role in the negotiation process, but such nuances are often omitted from the analysis provided by scholars of the realist approach to international relations.
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