scientific outreach by Iran’s strongest institutions during the 1970s needed to be revived.
The National Academies searched for opportunities for discussions, through intermediaries and directly with Iranian counterparts, which would clarify the scientific interests in non-sensitive areas of both the National Academies and their potential partners. Non-sensitive meant that any activity would be carried out within the legal and policy boundaries for interactions that had been established by the U.S. Government, and particularly the limitations imposed by export control regulations and economic sanctions. It quickly became clear that opportunities were available or could be developed for initial discussions about mutually beneficial bilateral engagement. Multilateral meetings provided good venues for such side discussions, but direct bilateral approaches that were not distracted by a focus on multilateral activities became preferable.
During the period of initiating engagement, a limited number of other U.S. institutions were cooperating in scientific endeavors with Iranian counterparts. The principal mechanisms included (a) university-to-university arrangements that usually involved student exchanges, (b) occasional U.S.-Iran workshops and other events in the United States and in Iran arranged by Iranian-American organizations, (c) attendance by a few American specialists at scientific conferences in Iran where contacts could be made with a variety of potential collaborators, and (d) acceptance by a limited number of Iranian scientists of invitations from American colleagues to participate in conferences in the United States. The experiences from these activities and from related efforts of several professional societies in the United States were helpful in providing guidance for the National Academies concerning how best to initiate and structure engagement activities and how to sustain such activities.
Despite concerns within the U.S. Government over Iran’s record on human rights, support of terrorist organizations by the Iranian Government, and Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear weapons, the Department of State supported the outreach efforts of American institutions to Iranian organizations in a number of fields, including science. Key U.S. government leaders had consistently argued that building long-term relationships with Iran should proceed in parallel with resolving immediate problems separating the two countries. This governmental support has been critical in the decisions of the National Academies to have a program that involved activities in both countries. Numerous meetings have been held with U.S. officials to help ensure that the program of the National Academies would