Join Active Minds for an in-depth look at the country of Iran. We will discuss the thorny issue of Iran's nuclear program, the relationship between Iran’s religious and political leadership, and challenges presented by regional turmoil. In particular, we will discuss how the rest of the world is responding to the various challenges presented by Iran.

Key Lecture Points

  • The nation of Iran is the present-day legacy of the Persian Empire.  As such, Iran has a deep, rich and lengthy history, marked by a flourishing culture, but also by points of conflict.  Religiously, Persia was the seat of the Zoroastrianism, beginning around 1500BCE until the widespread conversion to Islam in the 7th Century.  Persia was converted to Shi’a Islam in 1500 during the Safavid Empire.
  • Oil was discovered in Iran in the early 1900s, bringing Western interests to the country.  During WWI and WWII, Iran was occupied by the Allies.  Iran and oil politics were on the forefront of the Cold War in the Middle East during the post-war period.
  • In 1979 the US-supported Shah of Iran fled and revolution broke out, led by Ayatollah Rhollah Khomeini who proclaimed the new Islamic Republic.  The US embassy was seized in Tehran and the US broke diplomatic relations with Iran.  Iranian-US relations have been strained ever since.
  • In 1968 Iran signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty which allowed the country to develop a nuclear program (with US assistance) for peaceful purposes, such as electricity generation.   After briefly suspending its program after the 1979 Revolution, Iran re-established it in the 1980s.  In 2002 Iran announced the discovery of substantial uranium reserves and the intention to use them.  Starting in 2004, the UN Security Council passed a series of sanctions against Iran in the face of evidence that Iran was “carrying out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.”
  • After years of negotiations, in 2015 the US, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany reached a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions and the release of frozen assets.  Iran has since re-entered the oil market and is again open to international trade and investment.   It also has access to more than $100 billion of overseas assets that were previously frozen.
  • During the 2016 campaign, President Elect Trump expressed concern with the Iranian nuclear agreement.  It remains to be seen what his policy will be toward Iran and the nuclear agreement.
  • As the major Shi’a Muslim power in the Middle East, Iran plays a significant role in the region, particularly as it relates to escalation of violence along sectarian lines.  Iran has been a supporter of Shi’a populations (and leaders and forces) in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  Sunni powers in the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have pushed back against Iranian influence in these areas.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major issues in current US-Iranian relations?
  • What are the major points of the Iranian nuclear deal?   What are the initial results of the agreement?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever traveled to Iran?  If so, describe what the country was like at that point and how it appears different today.
  • What do you think it would mean to your daily way of life to live in a theocracy?
  • Do you think the nuclear deal was a good decision for the US?   Why or why not?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Majd, Hooman. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You Not to Stay: An American Family in Iran.  Anchor Books, 2014. 272 pages.  Majd is a journalist and the son of a diplomat under the Shah and a grandson of an ayatollah.  In 2011 he returned to Tehran with his family to live for a year—the first time he had lived in his homeland since he was a boy.  He describes his family’s life in Tehran during a tumultuous year in Iranian politics.
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  • Akbarzadeh, Shahram (editor) and Dara Conduit (editor).  Iran in the World: President Rouhani’s Foreign Policy.  Palgrave MacMillan, 2016. 216 pages.  The author describes Rouhani’s foreign policy during the first two years of his presidency to include the nuclear deal and Iran’s relations with its neighbors.
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  • Axworthy, Michael.  A History of Iran:  Empire of the Mind.  Basic Books, 2016. 384 pages.  This book describes the complexities of Iranian history from the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE to the present.
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