Part history, part political analysis, and part memoir, Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace is meant to give the reader an Iranian perspective on the perpetually tense political relationship between Iran and the United States. Mousavian is an important and uniquely placed voice on this topic due to his longstanding role in Iranian foreign relations. He served as the Ambassador to Germany, headed the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council, and was the lead negotiator in Iran’s nuclear talks with the EU. As a result, he is able to share personal insights on the key figures in Iranian leadership, including the Supreme Leader, former presidents Khatami and Ahmedinejad, and notably Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, with whom he had a close relationship.
Mousavian touches on events from the hostage crisis to recent nuclear negotiations, presenting the Iranian perspective and a diplomat’s take on the personalities and motivations that created them. From his point of view, Iran’s leadership have been continually making efforts towards rapprochement, which are spoiled either by third parties or by the United States’s misinterpretation of these actions. He also tries to dispel the notion held by some American scholars and policymakers that there are no moderates in Iran, or that Iranians have been unwilling to work cooperatively with the United States and the West. This book suggests that Iran wasn’t responsible for several incidents of terrorism that derailed diplomatic initiatives, such as the Mykonos restaurant assassinations, and the Khobar Towers bombing, which occurred while Mousavian himself was negotiating a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Considering terrorism is a key issue in the U.S.-Iran relationship, Mousavian repeatedly asserts that rogue elements inside Iran and “false-flag” terrorist activities by external forces should be a consideration of Americans when thinking about attribution.
As a seasoned diplomat, the author effectively highlights gaps of cultural understanding in the United States’ dealings with Iran. He uses a number of incidents, including personal conversations, to demonstrate the importance for negotiators to understand the Iranian attitudes towards honor and humiliation, Iranian leadership’s understanding of what constitutes a “good will” relationship, and even the Persian tendency towards conspiracy theory.1
The strength of this book does not lie in its recounting of history, but instead, in the help it can provide Americans to understand the points of disagreement in the interpretations of this history, to understand how small and large incidents have built up into the web of our current relationship, and to apply that perspective toward better and more constructive dialogue with Iran. Even if one were to disagree with Mousavian’s interpretation of certain events, or the motivations surrounding them, what this book does very well is provide a strong personal narrative that helps clarify how to continue constructive dialogue with Iran. The author begins by emphasizing a cooperative (if distant) past, and ends by outlining his vision of a “roadmap to peace.”2 The U.S.-Iran relationship will continue to be a central factor in the future of the Middle East, and this book can serve as a useful resource for scholars, policymakers, and diplomats alike.
1 Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View of the Failed Past and the Road to Peace (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), chapters 1-7.
2 Ibid., chapter 8.