American perceptions of Iran have slowly deteriorated over the course of the 20th century because of a number of historical events, a Boston College professor said on Tuesday.
Political science professor Ali Banuazizi addressed an audience of about 30 students and faculty members at the Castle in a lecture titled "U.S. - Iran Relations: Confrontation, 'Engagement,' Sanctions – and Then?"
Banuazizi, who served as president of the Middle East Studies Association before joining the BC faculty in 1971, delved into Iran's development since the early 19th century and how the U.S. influenced the country's government.
However, three particular events that occurred in the 20th century caused a rift between the two countries, he said.
"In the early 20th century, the U.S.'s position vis-à-vis Iran was in great accord with Iranian interests and nationalists until the 1953 coup d'état, the hostage crisis and the Iran-Iraq War," he said.
The hostage crisis was especially humiliating for the U.S., he said.
"The average American has a memory of Iran from that time, which is a very negative memory," he said.
More recently, Iran's policies and governmental responses to the U.S. have been affected by the Bush administration and President Barack Obama's election.
"Bush's 'Axis of Evil' speech was given almost immediately after Iran tried to moderate policies with the U.S. in Afghanistan," he said. "Iran is not guilt-free, but by and large, the hostile attitude of the U.S. was impervious to the moderating ways of Iran."
Obama has changed U.S. rhetoric toward Iran in light of the latter country's recent steps towards better democracy, he said.
"In Iran, the present regime seems to have lost its democratic legitimacy," he said. "It's not a monarchy, but a republican regime. What should the U.S. do? Enforce a pro-democracy movement. Obama changed his rhetoric by stating America's support for Iran's change in democracy."
Iran's nuclear ambitions also put a great strain on the country's relationship with the U.S., he said.
"There is no way to stop Iran's nuclear development; however the moment Iran has the bomb, it knows it will lead to its isolation in the same way North Korea's nuclear development has lead the international community to shun it."
"Iran cannot afford to be isolated," he continued. "They have very legitimate security concerns and fears. Economically, Iran is absolutely dependent on being integrated into the world economy."
Banuazizi said the only way to strengthen the relationship between the two countries is through the threat of sanctions.
"With the pressure of sanctions I believe it's possible for the US to pursue diplomatic negotiations," he said. "It's in the best interest of Iran to choose the path of non-confrontation."
School of Management senior Domino Gourley said she found the lecture to be informative and pertinent.
"I agreed with his points, and found his take on Iranian [perception] and our relationship with Iran today really enlightening," she said. "I liked what he picked out as pivotal as opposed to what he thought was not so relevant."