12
A Half Century of Successes and Problems in U.S.-Iranian Cooperation in Science, Engineering, and Medicine

GLENN SCHWEITZER

The National Academies


During the last half century, colleagues in the United States and Iran have undertaken a number of important cooperative programs in science, engineering, and medicine. Footprints from these efforts are embedded in laboratories, educational centers, and other institutions in both countries. During the same period, however, hundreds of programs have been proposed and even started that did not succeed due to political difficulties, lack of financial support, and a host of other reasons.

As is well known, bilateral cooperation reached a high point in the 1970s—educational exchanges, joint research projects, technology-oriented activities of multinational companies, and other forms of interactions. Currently, bilateral cooperation is at a very low level, although the attention in Washington and Tehran devoted to this particular workshop is quite impressive. There seems to be widespread optimism that science can indeed become a gateway to understanding.

Thus, an important objective of this workshop is to reinvigorate interest in both countries in cooperative endeavors that can benefit international science while also improving the atmos-



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12 A Half Century of Successes and Problems in U.S.-Iranian Cooperation in Science, Engineering, and Medicine GLENN SCHWEITZER The National Academies D uring the last half century, colleagues in the United States and Iran have undertaken a number of important coopera- tive programs in science, engineering, and medicine. Foot- prints from these efforts are embedded in laboratories, educational centers, and other institutions in both countries. During the same period, however, hundreds of programs have been proposed and even started that did not succeed due to political difficulties, lack of financial support, and a host of other reasons. As is well known, bilateral cooperation reached a high point in the 1970s—educational exchanges, joint research projects, technology-oriented activities of multinational companies, and other forms of interactions. Currently, bilateral cooperation is at a very low level, although the attention in Washington and Tehran devoted to this particular workshop is quite impressive. There seems to be widespread optimism that science can indeed become a gateway to understanding. Thus, an important objective of this workshop is to rein- vigorate interest in both countries in cooperative endeavors that can benefit international science while also improving the atmos- 89

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90 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING phere for development of better bilateral political relations. Central to this effort is overcoming political barriers that prevent or dis- courage cooperation. This paper describes a few examples in U.S.-Iranian coop- eration in recent decades. The review of past efforts and the obsta- cles that have been encountered should provide useful background for related discussions about future activities. Such forward- looking discussions should take place at this workshop. My presentation emphasizes events that have been sup- ported by the governments and by well-established nongovernmen- tal institutions in the two countries. Of course more limited efforts by individual specialists may often be the most effective form of cooperation. And the importance of multilateral activities increases during times of political turmoil. But the symbolic value of bilat- eral activities involving well-known institutions should not be un- derestimated. This paper provides a Washington perspective on the char- acter and impacts of bilateral cooperation. The programmatic ex- amples add specificity to the presentation. During the discussion, I hope that participants in the workshop will add Iranian viewpoints on these and other types of cooperative activities. Many partici- pants have firsthand experience, and their views are important. We should be able to extract significant lessons learned from the activities that are singled out for attention. Some events have had positive effects in advancing science and in building bridges among specialists with common interests. Others under- score the importance of designing programs in ways that reduce the likelihood that they will run afoul of political impediments to cooperation, either before initiation or during implementation. The review should help document the important role played by advocates of cooperation in both countries who are prepared to sustain their advocacy efforts over extended periods. In many cases, their efforts have clearly demonstrated that cooperation is feasible and important, even under difficult political conditions. Of course in highly sensitive security-related fields, cooperation has been and will probably continue to be off limits regardless of the

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A HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS 91 mutual interests in cooperation of nongovernmental institutions in both countries. Beginning in 1952, the United States launched the Point Four program of technical assistance in Iran. For more than a dec- ade this program involved many Iranian institutions and brought to Iran more than 400 American specialists in a variety of fields. More than 4,800 Iranians worked for U.S. foreign aid organiza- tions. Tehran University, the Technical College in Abadan, and other education and research centers in different parts of the coun- try were active participants in the program. During this period, Pahlavi University, renamed Shiraz University many years ago, was to a considerable extent patterned after American higher edu- cation and was populated with visiting American professors. In- deed, today it is still referred to by some graduates as the American university (Amuzeger, 1966; Bill, 1988). In the early 1960s, the United States sold to Iran a 5- megawatt nuclear research reactor located on the premises of Te- hran University. Also, the U.S. government provided about 10 pounds of enriched uranium to fuel the reactor, which reached the state of criticality in 1967. Originally the reactor was operated by the university. Shortly after its installation, control was turned over to the newly established Iranian Atomic Energy Office. This activ- ity was the focus of intergovernmental discussions on cooperation in developing 30,000 megawatts of nuclear power capacity in Iran, a target that apparently has persisted within the Iranian government until today. Related to the early interest in nuclear reactors, 150 Iranian nuclear engineers were trained at the Massachusetts Insti- tute of Technology with other engineers trained in Western Europe. Presumably, the complex where the research reactor is lo- cated continues to provide training for Iranian students in a variety of fields with nuclear applications, including medicine, agriculture, and electronics as well as in scientific research. At present, en- hancement of Iranian capabilities in nuclear science and engineer- ing is a contentious international issue, as is well known.1 1 See, for example, www.nti.org/_research/profiles/Iran/3119_3268.html and www.workers.org/world/iran-nuclear-0324; both accessed September 20, 2007.

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92 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. private sector became intensely interested in the industrial development of Iran. Eco- nomic globalization was in its early stages, and Iran was consid- ered a lucrative market for American products and services as well as an excellent training ground to hone young talent in advanced technologies. The Iranian government entered into contracts with American and other international companies to help develop the petroleum sector and to enlarge the irrigation and hydro power in- frastructures. This water dimension of agricultural and industrial development was at times compared to the development of the wa- ter resources in the southeastern United States under the auspices of the Tennessee Valley Authority (Bill, 1988). In the oil sector, a western consortia of companies operated Iranian facilities, but Iran retained ownership. As would be ex- pected, the financial arrangements associated with activities in this sector were of great interest. Indeed, the finances sparked contro- versy in Iran and internationally (ibid). Also, prior to the Revolution, sales of American military equipment to Iran grew rapidly, with annual sales reaching billions of dollars in the early 1970s. As Iran developed capabilities to ab- sorb the advanced technology associated with military equipment, local efforts probably had significant spin-off impacts in strength- ening the civilian sector as well. Some benefits eventually may have turned into liabilities, however, as Iranian facilities have struggled to find embargoed spare parts for maintaining military equipment in working order, thereby diverting time and talent from focusing on enhancing civilian technologies (ibid). Until the late 1970s, tens of thousands of Iranian students traveled to the United States to obtain degrees in many fields. En- gineering was the most popular topic, with more than one-half of the Iranian students in the United States studying engineering. In the 1970s, the number of Iranian students at American universities and colleges reached a peak of 50,000, with most financed by their

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A HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS 93 families or other private sources. The number of students then steadily declined to a level of 2,400 in 2006-2007.2 These education experiences seem to have had a profound influence on the development of universities in Iran. In some cases, student activities led to sustained linkages between American and Iranian universities. Iranian graduates often took home their ex- periences in the United States. Some tried to shape approaches at Iranian universities to conform to models they had seen in the United States. According to many reports, most students had posi- tive impressions of American approaches. Some Iranian students have remained in the United States. Today Iranian-born scientists and engineers are making important contributions to the research and technology efforts of American universities and companies. For example, Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering considers graduates of Sharif University of Technology as the best prepared electrical engineer- ing students undertaking graduate studies at Stanford and points to a number of former students from Iran who now hold key positions within the American academic community. And when there are tremors of earthquakes in the San Francisco area, Iranian engineers from the University of California at Berkeley are often prominent among the advisers to state and local governments.3 A specific proposal that offered considerable promise for developing the scientific capability of Iran was set forth in 1975 by The Rockefeller University to assist Iran in establishing a modern biomedical research center. The team from The Rockefeller Uni- versity, which has been the home institution for a number of Nobel laureates, concluded that an effective new research institute could be established in five to ten years. Unfortunately, this proposal was not implemented, as there were many claimants on limited finan- cial resources, which shrank as oil prices tumbled. Then, within 2 Information obtained from Institute for International Education, New York, New York, September 15, 2007. 3 Information obtained from Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, September 15, 2007.

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94 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING several years the receptive political situation was rapidly trans- formed (The Rockefeller University, 1975). Nevertheless, in recent years we have witnessed a signifi- cant strengthening of Iranian capabilities in the field of biomedical research—at Tehran Medical University, at Shaheed Beheshti Medical University, and at the Pasteur Institute, for example. These institutions maintain limited but nevertheless strong ties with American institutions despite political problems. This is in- deed an area for cooperation that will benefit populations in many countries. Moving forward to 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which complicated the carrying out of bilateral scientific exchanges. Restrictions were placed on all American organizations that desired to carry out sustained ac- tivities with Iranian institutions in science and technology. The key test is whether the activity could be interpreted as involving a “ser- vice” provided either by the American or by the Iranian partner. Even publishing Iranian papers in American journals was initially interpreted as providing a service since the journals inevitably pro- vided some editorial service in preparing papers for publication, as discussed below.4 Also in 1994, the Iranian Academic Association was estab- lished in New York City to provide a discussion forum for Iranian scientists from academia and industry through conferences and workshops on developments of broad international interest. The association has sponsored a series of workshops and meetings in Iran and in the United States on topics such as earthquake re- sponse, automobile accidents, the petrochemical industry, and en- vironmental pollution. However, during the past several years, their activities seem to have slowed down.5 In 1999 and 2000, the leaderships of the Iranian Academy of Sciences and Academy of Medical Sciences and the leaderships of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of 4 See, for example, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Treasury, 31 CFR Parts 515, 538, and 560, December 15, 2004. 5 See iaa20.tripod.com; accessed September 20, 2007.

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A HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS 95 Engineering, and Institute of Medicine met in Washington and Te- hran. These meetings led to the launching of a program of scien- tific workshops and individual exchanges that have taken place during the past seven years. The activities have been particularly important in demonstrating that cooperation is possible during a period of deteriorating political relationships. The programs have been carefully designed to avoid legal and political difficulties. In 2001, several American organizations, including the three components of the U.S. National Academies mentioned above, were working with the U.S. government to exempt scien- tific organizations from the provisions of ILSA that restricted nor- mal scientific exchanges. A general license was to be issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to this end. But just as the pro- posal for exemption was on its way to the White House for ap- proval, terrorist attacks were carried out against the United States on September 11, 2001. The proposal was cast aside by the U.S. government as possibly threatening the security of the United States. At about the same time, consideration was being given in Washington to establishing a variation of the Fulbright program that would benefit American researchers interested in living for an academic year in Iran, to be followed by Iranian scholars interested in temporary stays in the United States. The Fulbright program, which supports exchange visits of graduate students and research- ers in many fields, has for several decades been one of the most successful international programs supported by the U.S. govern- ment. Even though there was considerable interest in the American academic community in participating in such a program, the events of September 11 immediately dominated the thinking of political leaders. The proposal was quickly put aside and has not been re- vived. In 2003, the frustration of American scientific organiza- tions with the restrictions on editing and publication of articles by Iranian scientists culminated in protests to the U.S. government. This effort was led by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). With strong backing from a number of U.S. pro-

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96 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING fessional societies, the IEEE succeeded in persuading the Depart- ment of the Treasury to issue a general license, which now permits publication of Iranian articles in American journals and preparation of joint reports without the previous requirement of seeking an in- dividual license each time such a paper or report is being consid- ered (Office of Public Affairs, 2004). The Librarian of the U.S. Congress, James Billington, vis- ited Iran in 2004. He was the highest ranking government official to travel to Tehran in recent years. The goal of the visit was to dis- cuss acquisition of Iranian publications for the Middle East section of the Library. Also, he discussed Iranian plans for a new facility to house national archives and other library resources. During the visit, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for bringing down the wall of mistrust (Wright, 2004). In 2005, the Bam earthquake evoked sympathetic reactions around the world. The U.S. government promptly responded to the Iranian request for international assistance. The Iranian govern- ment arranged for entry into the country of American specialists in earthquake recovery. However, there were difficulties in both lo- gistics and coordination. Eventually, the American team joined specialists from more than 40 other countries in assisting in the recovery operation (Garvelink, 2004). While the immediate international response was impres- sive, the follow-up international meetings to consider longer term assistance were less successful. Tens of millions of foreign assis- tance dollars were pledged by many countries, including the United States. However, the amount of assistance that was actually delivered was a very small percentage of that promised. In 2006, an unfortunate incident occurred that has left last- ing scars on American and Iranian specialists interested in coop- eration and particularly on Iranian professors at Sharif University of Technology. More than 40 faculty members of the university who received American visas to participate in the fourth Reunion of Alumni of Sharif University in California were denied entry into the United States at the San Francisco airport and other arrival points. Some were even placed in jail for a short time until they

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A HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS 97 were able to arrange for return flights to Iran. The U.S. government explained that since the purpose of the reunion was to enhance the technological capabilities of Iran, the entry of the professors was not in the security interests of the United States (Sheikoleslami, 2006). In the fall of 2006, former President Khatami visited a number of American organizations in several cities. Fortunately he included a meeting with leading American scientists and engineers in his itinerary. This recognition of the important role of the tech- nical communities in the two countries in promoting understanding set an important framework for the discussion that we are having today. In the fall of 2006, the Department of State launched its new visitor program for Iranians by inviting about 20 Iranian medical scientists to the United States for three weeks. All ex- penses are covered by the U.S. government for these programs, and the visa process is dramatically shortened. In subsequent months, the Department of State issued invitations to Iranian spe- cialists in the fields of drug addiction, emergency response to natu- ral disasters, and foodborne diseases. This is the first program in recent years whereby the U.S. government pays expenses for visits by large groups of Iranians to the United States, and it represents a significant policy initiative. At the same time, these programs must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure that they are not misused simply for tour- ism. To this end, the programs should have high scientific stan- dards both in the selection of the participants and in the design of the programs in the United States.6 In December 2006, the American Chemical Society in- formed the 36 Iranians who were members of the society that they could no longer retain their memberships due to legal problems. The specific issue is whether the society can provide member ser- vices to Iranians, including special prices on publications and meetings, access to databases, and training programs without a 6 Information obtained from Office of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, September 15, 2007.

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98 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING special license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The so- ciety has applied for a license from the Department of the Treas- ury, which we hope will soon be issued and would enable Iranians to rejoin the society. At the same time, we are concerned that this problem could affect Iranian members of other societies. There about 300 organizations in the United States that can be considered scientific societies (Bhattacharjee, 2007). Our task is to ensure that this workshop becomes a beacon that lights the way for a surge in scientific contacts. We are experi- encing too many negative events that constantly narrow the trail for scientific cooperation that could lead to better understanding at both the nongovernmental and governmental levels. For decades, Iran has been known as a land of engineers and doctors, while the United States has built its economy on the innovative skills of its scientists and engineers. Who can deny the value of joining efforts in a steady march to peace and prosperity? DISCUSSION Glenn Schweitzer: If a U.S. organization wants to teach short courses, the organization would have to obtain a license from the Department of Treasury. If we sign Iranians up and give short courses for them by Internet, it would be interpreted as a service, and a license would be required. In our role as a leadership organi- zation we try hard to convince the government that we do every- thing possible to encourage the scientific community to obey the law. So when we are contacted, we render our judgment and urge the interested party to talk to the Department of the Treasury. Yousef Sobouti: It is one of those cases that Professor Guyon was referring to when he said that certain rules should be broken. William Wulf: We have a saying in English: “I would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

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A HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS 99 Schweitzer: Fortunately, we have a license to cooperate with Professor Sobouti and his colleagues in the general area ad- dressed at this workshop for the next 28 months. Sobouti: In this room there are many people from Shiraz University, from those days when the University of Pennsylvania was reshaping Shiraz University. Do you have recommendations for any of us? Schweitzer: Yes; we need a Fulbright program. REFERENCES Amuzeger, J. 1966. Technical assistance in theory and practice, the case of Iran. New York, Washington, London: F.A. Prae- ger. Bhattacharjee, Y. 2007. ACS drops Iranian members citing em- bargo. Science 315:1777. Bill, J. A. 1988. The Eagle and the Lion: the Tragedy of American- Iranian Relations. New Haven: Yale University Press. Garvelink, W. J. 2004. United States Response to the Earthquake in Bam, Iran, Special Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Agency for International Development. Office of Public Affairs. 2004. Treasury Issues General License for Publishing Activities. Press release JS-2152. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Treasury. Sheikoleslami, Z. 2006. Letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Rockefeller University. 1975. A report to the imperial gov- ernment of Iran on the feasibility of establishing a new bio- medical research institute. New York: The Rockefeller Uni- versity. Wright, R. November, 5 2004. Librarian of Congress touches many bases on Iran visit. The Washington Post, p.20. Available online at www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/articles/A26490-2004Nov4.html.

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