In the early 2000s, under then-President Mohammad Khatami, tacit Iranian-American collaboration to successfully overthrow the Taliban ended as the Islamic Republic was labeled a member of the infamous “Axis of Evil.” Moreover, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran-US dialogue on Iraq faltered, while the White House not only rejected a nuclear fuel swap it had promoted but opted to instead push for intensified UN Security Council sanctions.
Despite these missed opportunities, most Iranians have so far favored engagement with the United States, as evidenced by their support for the JCPOA and the preceding negotiations. However, there are new and potentially troublesome dynamics at play that may greatly feed sentiment that faults the United States for the continued ostracizing of the Iranian economy.
In the past, talk of American treachery has fallen on deaf ears among many Iranians, partly because the Islamic Republic’s dealings with the United States were largely kept in the dark. In contrast, the highly publicized nature of the direct, high-level Iran-US engagement that led to the JCPOA has paved the way for anti-American sentiment to potentially find new breeding ground in Iran — should the United States come to be perceived as duplicitous.
To this end, there is a strong and shared interest between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama that ordinary Iranians imminently see — and feel — the normalization of Iran’s economic engagement with the world.
What is at stake is less about the future of the JCPOA and more about the risk of inopportune shifts in the Iranian political landscape at a crucial crossroads. Over the next 15 months, both Iran and the United States are set to hold important presidential elections.
For President Obama, facilitating US commitments under the JCPOA is thus not only about securing an important aspect of his legacy, but more so, ensuring that his successor — whomever he or she may be — will encounter the same constructive Iranian approach he has benefited from so much. If not, it will be to the detriment of all.