This report addresses the development and implementation of cooperation between American and Iranian scientists, engineers, and health specialists (hereinafter referred to as science-engagement) sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and their partners in the United States and Iran from 2010 through 2016. It extends the documentation of earlier science-engagement activities set forth in the related report titled U.S.-Iran Engagement in Science, Technology, and Medicine (2000-2009): Opportunities, Constraints, and Impacts. The National Academies Press published that report in 2010, and it is available at www.nap.edu.1 In 2014, the University of Tehran published in Farsi the first report, without the supporting appendixes that contained additional details about the program; and the report in Farsi has been available from the University of Tehran.2
In late 2009, the National Academies temporarily halted the science-engagement program. The National Academies and other U.S. nongovernmental institutions, as well as their partner organizations in Iran, were uncertain as to the policies of the U.S. and Iranian governments
1 Glenn E. Schweitzer: U.S.-Iran Engagement in Science, Engineering, and Health (2000-2009): Opportunities, Constraints, and Impacts, The National Academies Press, 2010.
2 Glenn E. Schweitzer: U.S.-Iran Engagement in Science, Engineering, and Health (2000-2009): Opportunities, Constraints, and Impacts, translated by H.R. Mahboodi (PhD) and Ajdolrahim Tandjalli, Tehran University Press, 2014 (in Farsi). Publication was proposed and arranged by the West Asia Council, Washington, D.C.
concerning people-to-people programs following the election in 2009 of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his second term. The National Academies considered the pause in engagement to be an appropriate time to review past efforts and to plan for the future when the policies of the two governments were more favorable for exchanges. The content and conclusions of that review are set forth in the report published in 2010. At about the same time that the review was completed, important government officials in both countries expressed their support for revival of cooperation sponsored by the National Academies. The program then continued, taking into account the findings during the review along with changes in the political landscapes in both countries that were relevant to exchanges.
Meanwhile, most U.S. nongovernmental organizations that had sponsored science-engagement with Iranian organizations and had temporarily discontinued their activities in 2009 decided to terminate their support of cooperation for the indefinite future. They were concerned primarily about (a) difficulties in obtaining funds for revival of earlier efforts or for initiation of new programs, (b) longer delays in both Tehran and Washington in approving issuance of visas, (c) increased interference with exchange programs by security authorities on both sides, and (d) compliance with U.S. licensing regulations as the requirements for carrying out exchanges became more complicated. These developments were also of considerable concern to the National Academies; but the early exchanges pursuant to the program had established sufficient credibility, support, and momentum in both countries for the program to continue.
In 2016, the engagement activities of the National Academies again stopped due to uncertainties concerning (a) policies affecting exchanges that would be adopted by the administration of President Donald Trump and the newly elected U.S. Congress, (b) Iranian policies that would be adopted following the presidential election in Tehran in May 2017, and (c) safety of Americans traveling to Iran as inter-governmental acrimony heightened. The leadership of the National Academies considered that the pause in activities was an appropriate time to conduct another assessment of its exchange activities and to begin planning for the future should the program again be revived. This report responds to the interest of the leadership. It reviews recent activities and the base of accumulated experience that can assist in developing future exchange activities of the National Academies, if science-engagement by the National Academies is to continue at a significant level.
Against this background, the purpose of this report is both to document the history and details of the National Academies’ cooperation with Iranian
organizations from 2010 to 2016 and to provide a perspective in considering future science-engagement. It describes a variety of activities, particularly workshops along with individual visits in both directions. Continuing consultations by the National Academies with U.S. and Iranian government officials are discussed. The report gives particular attention to sustainable relationships that have been developed; and it comments on the significance and impacts of past programs and projects, practical considerations in carrying out activities, and opportunities for future engagement. Also, it discusses trends in development of science and technology capabilities in Iran that provide an important context for exchanges.
The National Academies have not been involved in promoting student exchanges, which are of considerable interest to many universities in both countries. Thus, this report does not address the interests and activities of tens of thousands of Iranian students who have been enrolled in U.S. universities from 2010 to 2016.3
INTEREST IN BOTH COUNTRIES IN SCIENCE-ENGAGEMENT
From the outset of the National Academies’ involvement in exchanges with Iran in 2000, important members and institutions of the U.S. science community have been interested in developing approaches whereby the global community of scientists can benefit more fully from achievements of Iran’s research and development activities. A number of American scientists who traveled to Iran in recent years have been favorably impressed by the country’s growing science and technology capabilities. Some of these travelers became important contributors in expanding the National Academies’ relationship with Iranian institutions. At the same time, other American scientists who visited Iran did not find research or other activities at the institutions that they visited to be of sustained interest, taking into account the difficulties of arranging and carrying out cooperation. They had little
3 Iranian students in higher education institutions in the United States reached a peak level of 55,000 in 1978, and the influence of some of these graduates on U.S.-Iranian scientific relations in recent years has been profound. During the academic year of September 2015 to June 2016, more than 12,000 Iranian students attended U.S. institutions, with most of these students enrolled in engineering programs at the graduate level. Department of State officials have informally estimated that the vast majority of these students will return to Iran when they complete their studies in the United States. The number of Iranian students in the United States has been growing at a rate of about 10 percent per year during the past decade. Details are included in Institute of International Education, Open Doors 2016, November 2016.
incentive for continuing or expanding the interactions that they experienced during their visits.
Many Iranian researchers who traveled to the United States or met with American colleagues in other venues within the framework of the National Academies’ engagement program have remained ready to continue contacts. However, few of these researchers have found pathways for meaningful interactions. Thus, visits to the United States by well-established Iranian scientists, beyond extended family gatherings, have only occasionally taken place, usually when an intermediary organization such as the National Academies has made the necessary travel arrangements and organized the programs. Some American and Iranian scientists with common interests have stayed in touch through electronic communication; and the number of jointly authored scientific papers, given political realities, is surprisingly high.
Still the importance of arranging exchanges that continue for many years has not been forgotten in Iran. For more than four decades, thousands of Iranian researchers who received their advanced education in the United States returned to Iran. In time, many obtained leadership positions in universities and in research centers where they promoted cross-ocean contacts with American colleagues. While these senior professors and researchers have now largely retired, they have left indelible impressions within their institutions and among their students that cooperation with American colleagues often paid off for science in general and for personal advancement.
In Tehran and other cities throughout Iran, many of these scientists continue to spread their admiration of important technological advances within the United States. Their views have often been magnified by television broadcasts showing technological achievements that drive the U.S. economy and affect many aspects of life in the United States. As governmental and personal efforts in Iran try to replicate technical advances abroad and as the number of scientific papers co-authored by American and Iranian researchers have increased, the National Academies and other organizations have realized that the scientific dividends to both countries from the revival of the often forgotten era of exchanges involving professionals in many fields of science and technology could be significant.
The political benefits from exchanges—such as building trust between important institutions and individuals in the two countries while contributing to institutional transparency—have frequently been cited by American observers as a strong justification for exchanges. However, the National Academies have considered scientific payoff as the most important outcome of its Iran program. Therefore, the National Academies have tried to avoid
projects that could not be supported on the basis of scientific value, even if a proposed project seemed to offer high promise of advancing diplomatic objectives. To be considered successful, engagement activities needed to be professionally rewarding for the participants from both countries; and mutual enhancement of professional capabilities has been a guiding principle of the National Academies’ efforts.
Occasionally the National Academies have sponsored “training” programs wherein American experts do not benefit immediately. However, these programs have been designed to enhance the technical capabilities of the participating Iranian scientists so that they are in positions to contribute to subsequent cooperative programs that benefit participants from both countries. An example is the training of early-career Iranian scientists to modernize data systems for storage and then for sharing of seismic measurements that are of broad international interest. When Iran has in place upgraded data storage, retrieval, and distribution systems, the global scientific community benefits from access to previously unavailable data.
The National Academies have been reluctant to engage in cooperative activities with sensitive security dimensions. The focus on “peaceful” activities has helped convince Iranian organizations that engagement activities are not targeted on obtaining information of importance to intelligence agencies. At the same time, this approach relieves anxieties of the U.S. government that the program might enhance Iran’s military technology capabilities. Unfortunately, cautious avoidance of cooperative projects with potential dual-use implications has, in recent years, curtailed exchanges in basic research in physics, chemistry, and biology; and the curtailment has even extended to some aspects of basic mathematics.
More than 1,500 scientists from about 120 institutions in the two countries have been active participants in the projects sponsored by the National Academies since 2000. About one-half of the participants were involved during the seven years covered by this report. Most participants have been faculty members from universities in the two countries, although a significant number of scientists from government, research institutions, and nongovernment organizations have also participated. In addition, a comparable number of scientists from the two countries have been involved as observers at meetings, hosts at sites of field visits, and participants in training programs organized by the National Academies and their Iranian partners.
Of special importance in considering impacts of exchange activities are the number and positions of government officials in both countries who have been aware of the overall program or of specific activities. They have
included Foreign Ministers and Secretaries of State, who have been briefed by participants on program activities. According to Iranian organizers of exchanges, the Supreme Leader and two Presidents of Iran have at times expressed support of science exchanges; and President Mohammad Khatami participated in a collaborative workshop in Tehran following his retirement from government service. In Washington, close advisers to former U.S. presidents have also taken an active interest in the program.
Iranian ministers, U.S. senior officials, and/or their staffs have been aware of projects when they were being developed and carried out. At times, these officials have played crucial roles in obtaining governmental approvals (for visas or licenses, for example) or political endorsements of activities. Almost always, when informed of the details of exchanges, government officials in both countries have expressed interest in learning about the results of jointly sponsored events.
AUDIENCE FOR THIS REPORT
This report should be of interest to a variety of organizations, individual researchers, and program implementers, including, but beyond, the participants and organizations that have been involved in organizing, sponsoring, funding, or approving activities. The 2010 report is one of the few readily available reports that chronicles a wide range of U.S.-Iran science-engagements activities in recent years and also provides pointers to more complete and available documentation concerning specific activities. This second report enlarges the shelf of readily available information and identifies new guide posts to additional sources of relevant information as of 2016.
Meanwhile, the popularity of the concept of science diplomacy is growing, not only among foreign affairs practitioners but also among academics and students in the United States, Iran, and other countries. The two reports published by the National Academies should serve as useful up-to-date resources in highlighting approaches to bridging the gap between academic hypotheses and on-the-ground realities. While each example of science diplomacy has unique characteristics, the threads of advancing science while improving diplomatic relations are usually common characteristics.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear deal) has changed the nature of the U.S.-Iran relationship. It includes commitments by both countries and by five other participating countries and the European Union to cooperate not only in observations of some of the most sensitive aspects of weapons research and development but also to consider cooperation in the conduct of civilian nuclear science. Thus, this report should provide useful
information about the practical aspects of implementing different types of exchanges that might be carried out pursuant to the nuclear deal.
Finally, if other U.S. nongovernmental institutions are encouraged and able to revitalize and expand their interests in promoting exchanges in science and technology with Iranian institutions, the report will provide relevant information. It addresses the structure and activities of a variety of universities, research centers, and government agencies in Iran, which have long been interested in participating in international cooperation activities.
ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT
The chapters of the report address the context, content, and outcomes of recent National Academies’ activities and approaches. This experience can provide the starting point for considering whether and how to move forward again when political conditions for exchanges are favorable. To this end, the remainder of the report is organized into the following chapters.
Chapter 2 (the context) presents a brief overview of the first decade of the National Academies’ program activities (2000-2009) that led to a well-tuned and widely respected framework for sustaining and expanding science-engagement as the political environment for cooperation slowly improved. It highlights Iranian efforts to elevate the status and impacts of science and technology as important keys to development of a knowledge-based economy and the associated implications for international cooperation. Special attention is given to the activities of universities and academies and to international publications of scientists. The expanded role of the Vice President for Science and Technology of Iran and the important science-related activities of several key ministries are discussed as the nation tries to strengthen its science and technology prowess to achieve laudable but overly optimistic economic and technological goals by 2025.
Chapter 3 (the program) describes bilateral science-engagement activities carried out since 2010, particularly workshops in the United States, Iran, and France, under the auspices of the National Academies and its partners. Impacts on research activities in Iran are noted. Involvement of highly qualified specialists from both countries in collaborative activities is reported, while emphasizing the considerable effort that has been devoted to (a) preparing and distributing documentation of exchange activities, and (b) informing officials in both countries of the short-term and long-term importance of joint activities, using recent exchanges as cases in point. Lessons learned during 15 years of cooperation are underscored.
Chapter 4 (the constraints) discusses the many impediments complicating development and implementation of exchanges. Personal safety, sanctions, funding shortfalls, visas, and changing political winds have long been at the top of the list of difficulties in arranging mutually beneficial exchanges. At the same time, less obvious steps to sustainability, such as developing confidence concerning reliability of partners and willingness to invest time and resources into arrangements that may not come to fruition, deserve comparable recognition.
Chapter 5 (the future) highlights unfulfilled opportunities and uncertain political challenges in continuing cooperation in 2017 and beyond. The benefits to both countries in addressing some of the innumerable environmental challenges in Iran of regional and global importance are singled out for special attention. The spotlight is on the future program of the National Academies, which has played a central role in coordinating and focusing exchanges in directions wherein scientific payoffs can be achieved. At the same time, the Nuclear Deal is recognized as an overarching aspect of the U.S.-Iran relationship, with science and technology issues at the core of international concerns. Annex III of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action contains a list of areas wherein bilateral or multilateral civil nuclear cooperation could be developed. It is singled out in this report as a potential arena for significant science-engagement that could benefit from the National Academies’ 16 years of experience in developing sustained relationships that have addressed important issues of common concerns.
A number of appendixes present information concerning the science and technology capabilities and interests of Iranian organizations. Many of these capabilities are not well known to the American scientific community, but they may offer the bases for exchanges. The appendixes provide information about the details of specific exchanges that should be helpful to other organizations interested in developing and carrying out activities in a number of fields. Appendix A provides a timeline for the most significant milestones in the National Academies’ program from 1999 through 2016, and Appendix B identifies a large number of publications that document exchange activities. The remainder of the appendixes provide details that support discussions throughout the report.
In addition, footnotes are included that identify sources and additional information that relate to the discussions in the text. At times, it has been essential to identify sources of information in general terms in order to respect the concerns of the sources.