The National Academies were conducting exchanges when no one else was and in so doing, we as a nation are prepared to seize on a historic opportunity with projects that reinforce a fragile diplomatic process.
– Senior Department of State official, 2015.
As discussed in Chapter 2, following a brief pause during the second half of 2009, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine revived the program of science-engagement with Iranian institutions. The decision to resume the program gave considerable weight to (a) endorsement of continuation by the Department of State (the department), (b) revival of interest in exchanges by a few U.S. research and higher education institutions that had been partners of the National Academies, and (c) enthusiasm for further exchanges within many scientific organizations in Tehran and other cities of Iran. Despite the steady deterioration of the political relationship between the two governments, the promoters of science-engagement in the two countries were confident that they could continue the program. Most of the National Academies’ partners in the United States and Iran were interested primarily in continuing activities that had already been initiated, while some organizations hoped to spread efforts into other areas of science, engineering, and health.
Several U.S. organizations beside the National Academies and their partners were also interested in reviving their dormant activities. But most U.S. organizations that had carried out science exchanges with Iran decided to focus their international efforts on cooperation with other countries, which was less complicated. Then, following the election in 2013 of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who advocated international cooperation, interest at a number of U.S. universities and other science-oriented institutions increased.
Until 2013, the National Academies followed the programming approach for exchange activities that had been developed in earlier years. The emphasis was on bilateral and trilateral workshops held in the United States, Iran, and other countries, usually with visits to relevant institutions before or after the workshops. Also of importance was the National Academies’ financial support or simply encouragement of participation of American scientists in individual exchange visits to Iran or in presentations of their research findings at international conferences in Tehran. Participation in such conferences could usually be coupled with visits to research organizations.
During the first decade (2000-2009) of the National Academies’ program, the topics of workshops and visits were numerous, with only limited efforts by the National Academies to consolidate efforts under a small number of themes. The workshops and visits usually involved different scientists for each event. The National Academies often gave priority to the ease of organizing programs in order to establish groups of interested partners in both countries without extensive delays. At the same time, as noted in the previous chapter, U.S. security concerns ruled out most programs devoted to research in chemistry, biology, or physics that might touch security sensitivities concerning the possibility of access to dual-use technologies.
In 2013, the National Academies began to modify their overall approach and concentrate on science-engagement within a limited set of topics. This change was due in part to the support of Iranian government officials concerning the importance of each event and their interest in continuing the program with the same topics. Thus, interest in sustaining relationships between scientists in the two countries through follow-on activities to workshops rather than supporting one-off workshops increased. Later in this chapter, the topics that were pursued during workshops are highlighted. As will be evident, the projects of interest soon became broadly defined science-intensive activities, which in time could lead to near-term societal and environmental benefits.
At the same time, an upsurge continued in the number of Iranian students at U.S. universities, reaching a level of more than 12,500 in 2015/2016. Most were enrolled in engineering programs at the graduate level.1 The Iranian government supported a number of these students. Many of the remainder were supported with private funds of Iranian relatives of the students or with research grants available to their American mentors.
1 Institute of International Education, Open Doors, 2016: Fact Sheet Iran, New York, 2016.
The department estimated that by 2015, most of the Iranian students were returning to Iran after completion of their studies, whereas in earlier years the percentage remaining in the United States was larger. The Iranian government’s policy in providing support at times required family collateral, including real estate in Iran, to be forfeited, should the students not return to Iran; and this policy affected the return-home rate.2
With the ascendancy of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, institutions in a number of other countries gradually increased their science-oriented cooperation with Iran (beyond acceptance of Iranian students)—particularly institutions in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Many Iranian organizations soon became interested in taking advantage of opportunities to place their scientists for short periods at foreign research centers. But the disenchantment in Tehran with arrangements with new partners that called for social as well as scientific acumen was at times serious. “It was simply too difficult to master the language,” commented some Iranians who worked at research facilities in Beijing, Tokyo, and other distant cities to the east. “We were lost in an unfamiliar culture despite the efforts of our hosts to welcome us in their cities,” was another refrain from scientists returning home from abroad.3
As the possibility of participation in U.S.-Iran science-engagement activities received more attention in Iran, some Iranian organizations hesitated in implementing existing agreements that called for further involvement with other countries, for example China. U.S. institutions were often considered preferred partners. At the same time, the sustained involvement of well-educated and experienced Iranian scientists in exchanges that had been carried out by the National Academies over many years provided a rallying point for some scientists at major Iranian institutions to consider traveling abroad for the first time, having heard positive reports of hospitality of American colleagues in the United States.4 However, for the longer term visits, research positions in the United States were in high demand; and rising Iranian stars increasingly accepted the European or Canadian alternatives as both practical and good choices, given the intense competition in the United States and also the stagnation of U.S.-Iran political relations that hindered opportunities to make needed contacts.5
2 Estimates of Department of State officials who followed student exchanges, November 2016.
3 Reports of American visitors to Iran, 2010-2012.
4 Reports of Iranian organizers of delegations scheduled to visit the United States, pursuant to the IVLP, October 2012.
5 Senior professor representing Iranian Academy of Sciences familiar with dozens of Iranian post-doctoral scientists conducting research in Europe, 2013.
In 2013, when officials in Tehran, Washington, and several other capitals publicly discussed inter-governmental negotiations that would begin to resolve the long-standing nuclear standoff, a number of optimistic scientists in the United States and Iran focused on new opportunities for bilateral science-engagement. The science communities of the two countries were hopeful as to a positive outcome from the slow progress in Lausanne and Vienna in reaching a nuclear deal. They knew that engagement in research linked to development of nuclear weapons would be discussed in great detail, but they were uncertain as to whether civilian science cooperation would be on the agenda. Nevertheless, they began giving serious attention to expansion of activities in non-nuclear fields as well; but they still recognized that progress in any field depended to some extent on the closing of a nuclear deal.6
With new government leaders in place in Iran in 2013, the National Academies soon received accolades from government officials in both Tehran and Washington about the importance of science engagement programs during previous years. Significant voices in Tehran commended the National Academies both for advancing science and for bridge-building across a turbulent political crevasse. These votes of confidence tempered the impatience of non-nuclear scientists to move forward as the nuclear negotiations slowly advanced toward an end. A priority task of the National Academies was to continue supporting the few non-nuclear scientist-to-scientist activities in the pipeline, while searching for more ambitious ways to scale up and sustain engagement activities in the months and years ahead.7
The outlook of a few leading Iranian scientists who were in touch with the National Academies slowly improved. Engagement with colleagues from the United States, they underscored, could encompass many disciplines. Among the areas for cooperation of interest in Tehran was construction of an optical telescope in Iran. A modern observatory could then be linked to the global network of similar astronomy research centers throughout the world, supporters emphasized. On another front, Iranian physicists reported progress in construction of a modern synchrotron, soon to be available to all interested researchers, with Iranian government funds in hand to ensure the opening of a circular particle accelerator by 2020. Far distant
6 Conversations with visitors to Iran and with U.S. officials who followed activities in Iran, 2015-2016.
7 Based on strong encouragement to expand exchange program from Department of State officials.
from cooperation in physics, entomologists in both countries urged joint studies in Iran of finger-size biological phenomes that could walk on water. Promises of prompt steps by the government of Iran to prevent the killing of the estimated 70 remaining Asiatic cheetahs in Iran also garnered support by wildlife conservationists in the United States and elsewhere. Many other examples of American interest in scientific capabilities of Iran soon emerged.
In summary, during the period addressed in this chapter, science-engagement programs of other U.S. organizations declined to a small handful of activities; and the National Academies’ programs, although also small, included more than one-half of the participants in all U.S.-Iran institution-based science-engagement activities. In addition, interested individual researchers in each country stayed in touch, and the number of scientific publications with both U.S. and Iranian authors continued to increase as discussed in Chapter 2.
CONTINUATION OF THE PROGRAM OF WORKSHOPS SPONSORED BY THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
As the National Academies program of engagement slowly expanded from 2010 to 2016, and particularly in the aftermath of the election of President Rouhani, the Iranian interest in engagement increased dramatically. Highlighted below are the workshops that the National Academies and their partners in the United States and Iran organized, beginning in 2010.
1. Transportation: During 2011, 12 Iranian transportation scientists and engineers visited the United States at the invitation of the National Academies and the department, with Sharif University of Technology assisting in organizing the visit. During a workshop at the National Academies, the visitors made presentations on the following topics:
- Four decades of urban transportation in Tehran.
- Comprehensive transportation planning studies in Iran.
- State of pavement engineering in Iran.
- Median U-turns and the increased occurrence of night-driving accidents.
A discussion of activities of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board then set the stage for participation of the Iranian visitors in the 90th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board. They
attended sessions on energy, hydraulics and hydrology, planning and forecasting, transportation safety, bridges and tunnels, traffic management, concrete materials, rural transportation, and transportation technology. Following their attendance at the meeting, they visited the International Road Federation, the American Public Transportation Association, and the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
In Atlanta, Georgia, the Iranian specialists discussed the following themes with appropriate counterparts:
- Transportation research at the university level.
- Role of state agencies in transportation planning.
- Regional cooperation.
- Public transportation systems.
- Support of the business community for transportation projects.
In Tampa, Florida, the visitors considered the following topics:
- Future planning for various modes of transportation.
- Citizen involvement in improving transportation.
- Relevant university initiatives.
- Business solutions of transportation issues.
- Engineering services in the transportation industry.8
The National Academies received several messages from Tehran concerning continuation of contacts between the visitors and hosts. Also, follow-up correspondence was carried out between the visitors and Iranian-American faculty members at U.S. universities, who had immigrated into the United States. However, exchanges in other fields began to take priority; and interest in both countries in further exchanges in the field of transportation waned.
2. Solar Energy: In August 2011, 12 Iranian specialists in solar energy spent three weeks in the United States, visiting Washington, Colorado, and Arizona, before completing their tour with participation in a workshop with
8 U.S. National Academies, “Global Perspectives on Transportation,” Compendium of material on a Visit to the United States by Iranian Scientists. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
American colleagues in Irvine, California. At the workshop, the following sessions were held:
- Solar-thermal power innovations.
- Solar energy market analysis and policy.
- Photovoltaic and photo-electrochemical solar energy conversion.
- Design of solar energy systems.
American scientists became aware of the scope of solar energy research in Iran and also had an opportunity to learn about the operating experience of the country’s first pilot solar-thermal power plant near Shiraz. Relentless sunshine and vast flat areas of land characterize much of Iran where there are numerous potential locations of future plants. Suggestions as to how to move forward based on the experiences at Shiraz and elsewhere included the following:
- Prepare an authoritative solar map for Iran that is based on satellite data.
- Carry out feasibility studies for site-selection of future solar plants.
- Improve designs of glass mirrors and absorber tubes.
- Exchange information on long-term thermal and optical performances of power plants.
- Promote exchanges of solar-energy research scientists.
During the workshop an Iranian expert set forth the following concerns about the approaches that were to be adopted in the past and were being carefully examined once again.
- Rural electrification is complicated, and life-cycle costs should be calculated over 20 years.
- Overall stability of legal and financial frameworks for power plants are very important.
- Electrification projects should involve local communities and local companies.
- For each project, strengthening both operations and maintenance practices is essential.
- Energy efficiency should be a guiding principle from the very beginning of each project.9
Unfortunately, due to financial constraints the National Academies were not able to accept an invitation from a senior government research leader in Iran to organize a follow-on visit of American specialists to Iran. Of particular interest, according to the official, were (a) establishment of many efficient and inexpensive village grids, and (b) development of large-scale solar farms covering vast territories of land, well-suited to transform solar radiation into energy that could be stored and distributed as electricity to lightly populated areas.
3. Wildlife Conservation and Habitat Management: In 2012, 13 Iranian wildlife specialists visited the United States. After consultations with several organizations in the Washington area, including a visit to the Smithsonian research center near Front Royal, Virginia, the visitors traveled to New Mexico and southern California, including the Salton Sea. They concluded their stay with a workshop in Irvine, California, and then visits to nearby mountain habitats for wildlife (the Irvine Ranch Conservancy) and to a well-managed coastal ecosystem south of Irvine.
According to workshop participants, a number of the wildlife challenges in Iran are similar to challenges in the southwestern United States. Both have a diverse selection of flora and fauna. One speaker reported that the fauna in Iran consists of 194 species of mammals, 534 species of birds, 216 species of reptiles 20 species of amphibians, and 180 species of fresh water fish, for a total of 1,144 species. Seventy-eight of the species are considered threatened, including 17 species of mammals, 20 species of birds, 9 species of reptiles, 4 species of amphibians, and 28 species of fish.
Iran’s Department of Environment has responsibility for 27 national parks, 42 wildlife refuges, 150 protected areas, and 35 national monuments. Together they comprise greater than 10 percent of the country’s land area, and managing this dispersed area is a difficult challenge. At the time of the workshop, the Iranian department had three major projects involving international experts: conservation of the Asiatic cheetah, conservation of bird-life in wetlands, using the Siberian crane as the flagship species, and protection of sea turtles, using the Hawksbill Sea Turtle as the flagship species.
9 Lori Greene, editor, Challenges in the Development of Solar Energy. A Joint Iranian U.S. Workshop, Proceedings, University of California, Irvine, August 2011.
Given this background, the visitors were intensely interested in protection of wildlife species and habitat management practices in the United States.10
While wildlife enthusiasts in both countries were interested in a reciprocal visit to Iran, the lack of financial resources limited contacts to correspondence and planning for activities that have not yet been carried out.
4. Mathematics Education: Given political hesitation in Washington over sharing advances in science that might in time support the Iranian defense community, the National Academies were stymied in their efforts to promote cooperation in some areas of basic science—in physics, chemistry, and biology in particular. In order not to totally neglect basic science, the National Academies decided to support a visit to the United States by Iranian professors of mathematics. Mathematics has long been a perennial strength at a number of Iranian universities, and the topic seemed somewhat distant from dual-use concerns. However, in order to be cautious concerning such security concerns, the focus was on mathematics education, primarily at the university level, while highlighting the overlaps between research and education at universities. In 2014, the University of California at Irvine hosted a workshop on mathematics education attended by 14 Iranian scientists and a comparable number of Americans, who were active in the field.
A portion of the three-week program coincided with the large annual mathematics conference for 2014, held in Baltimore. Traditionally, a number of U.S. mathematics associations and societies sponsor the conference; and without hesitation they welcomed the Iranian attendees. This venue afforded the visitors an opportunity to gain broad overviews of many research activities that were sufficiently distant from security concerns so as not to raise objections concerning application of advanced mathematics to intelligence activities. After additional stops by the Iranian visitors at mathematics departments of universities in Chicago and Texas, the workshop in Irvine attracted additional American mathematicians to meet with the Iranian researchers/educators.11
While the American host organizations provided outstanding support for the visit, neither the Iranian nor American participants promoted follow-on activities. It was possible that had there been greater interest, the
10 Tyler Cutforth, editor, Wildlife Conservation and Habitat Management, University of California, Irvine, April 2012.
11 Donald Saari, editor, Challenges of Mathematical Education, An American and Iranian Discussion, University of California, Irvine, January 27-29, 2014, The Mathematical Association of America, 2014.
National Academies could have considered supporting short visits by several American mathematicians to Iran.
Two years later an Iranian mathematician, who had immigrated into the United States and became a faculty member at Stanford University, was the first female scientist to win the Fields Medal—the highest worldwide distinction for a mathematician.
5. Seismic Science and Engineering: The earthquake tragedy that killed an estimated 30,000 people in Bam, Iran, in 2003, had been a loud wakeup call for expanded international collaboration between seismologists, civil engineers, and other highly skilled specialists who address tectonic rumblings in countries throughout the world. By 2012, the National Academies had accumulated a decade of experience in bringing together experts from the United States and Iran with common interests in many aspects of seismic science and engineering related to detection of the first underground tremors signaling eruption of an earthquake and then the after-shocks, to locating and rescuing victims of the eruptions, to using modern methods for cleaning up debris, and finally to rebuilding facilities after widespread destruction.
In 2012, the National Academies were well into the process of passing the torch of responsibility for the U.S. side of bilateral cooperation in this field to the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) at the University of California in Berkeley. The center carried out regular electronic communications between Berkeley and Tehran as it assembled teams of interested colleagues from a number of U.S. and Iranian research centers. Recognizing the prevalence and similarity of earthquakes confronting Iran’s northern neighbors, PEER also reached out to counterpart institutions in Turkey and Armenia in encouraging regional approaches for understanding the threat and consequences of violent seismic tremors that were common throughout the region.
A workshop in Tehran in 2012, the fourth bilateral event sponsored by PEER and the National Academies, exceeded expectations. Five seismic specialists from five U.S. institutions traveled to Iran. There, dozens of faculty members and graduate students from Sharif University of Technology, the host for the workshop, and from 10 other Iranian universities and research centers enthusiastically greeted them. An estimated 15 percent of the 230 Iranian attendees at the workshop and the one-day training program that immediately followed the workshop were female graduate students and female early-career scientists. This amazingly diverse participant list was noticed by all, after decades of relegation of women scientists to observer
status during similar events. In 2014, a U.S.-Iran-Turkey workshop in Istanbul was also successful in contributing to the global storehouse of important seismic experience about one of the most volatile regions of the world. A U.S.-Iran-Armenia workshop was then held in Yerevan, Armenia, which is a close neighbor of Iran situated in the geographically linked earthquake-prone region, where the participants again contributed to a growing base of up-to-date regional data.
Issues of primary concern to the PEER team and its Iranian partners soon included (a) reinforcement of the structures of 17,000 vulnerable school buildings that had been lightly constructed in earthquake-prone areas of Iran, and (b) practical and affordable technical approaches in strengthening the resilience of tall buildings in Tehran and other cities of the country to survive seismic shocks. These two tasks—to be carried out by Iranian construction firms—were daunting but important imperatives. Also, a new initiative of PEER called for Iranian colleagues to make available to the public extensive seismic data that they had collected in Iran over many years. Information about the behavior characteristics of a variety of types of eruptions in diverse underground settings that had been lying dormant in Iranian file cabinets was becoming widely available.12 Many scientists in a number of countries welcomed this important development.
6. Deterioration of the Lake Urmia Basin: In 2013, the National Academies responded to a personal request for bilateral cooperation from the then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. He subsequently returned to an earlier position as director of the Atomic Energy Organization in Tehran. In that position he had the added responsibility of serving as the key Iranian nuclear science expert during the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal.
In his request, Minister Salehi suggested that American and Iranian scientists jointly focus on the conditions in a large saline lake—Lake Urmia—that provided water for a well-populated water basin. The availability of water was steadily receding due to evaporation and inadequate measures for limiting overuse of the limited resource, which was being devoted primarily to the agriculture sector. Water-use quickly outpaced adequate replenishment, and salt particles were increasingly exposed along
12 Earthquake Engineering Research Center, Urban Earthquake Engineering, Proceedings of the U.S.-Iran Seismic Workshop, December 18-20, 2012, Tehran, University of California, Berkeley, 2013; Earthquake Engineering Research Center, Seismic Risk Management in Urban Areas, Proceedings of a U.S.-Iran-Turkey Seismic Workshop, December 14-16, 2010, Berkeley, California, 2011.
previously submerged shores on a massive scale. The wind promptly carried salt-laden soil particles to nearby fields under cultivation where the salt had devastating effects.13
While the wind was relentlessly turning down-wind areas into contaminated surfaces unfit for agriculture, the National Academies organized a workshop in France that involved American and Iranian scientists along with several European experts. They offered practical suggestions to help address the problem. More extensive recycling of water, erection of physical structures to reduce and then guide runoff into productive uses, and provision of coverings for exposed salt-infested lake beds and shores were among the themes of the workshop. These experts cast serious doubts on the merits of proposals by Russian specialists for seeding clouds to stimulate rainfall and suggestions by other international groups to build a canal for transferring water from the Caspian Sea to the shrinking lake.14
After this round of discussions between water specialists from the two countries, the National Academies asked the University of California in Irvine to lead the U.S. component of follow-on activities in carrying out more serious engagement efforts. In 2014, American experts from Irvine and other research centers in the United States then played prominent roles in several relevant conferences in Iran and the United States. Utah State University also became active and effective in sharing the experience of its faculty members in studying the history and conditions of the Great Salt Lake.
The National Academies-initiated program was of considerable political as well as technical significance. In President Hassan Rouhani’s first public edict after he took office in 2013, he called for prompt steps to address the rapid evaporation of Lake Urmia. Shortly after the National Academies’ joint workshop in France, the Iranian government assembled a number of Iranian experts as advisors, including four Iranian scientists who had participated in the workshop and had then continued their interactions with American counterparts. Careful selection of the American and Iranian participants in the workshop in France and in other collaborative activities paid off in a variety of ways.
13 Discussion with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, New York City, September 20, 2013.
14 U.S. National Academies, A Compendium: U.S., Iranian, and European Experience in Assessing and Managing Water Resources: An Emphasis on Lake Urmia, Les Treilles, Tourtour, France, March 4-8, 2013, Washington, D.C., 2013.
7. Urban Air Pollution: The lingering brown clouds of particles and health-threatening gases have long been of serious concern to residents of Tehran and many other Iranian cities. Some cities have been coping with high levels of not only the traditional air pollutants from an ever-expanding fleet of cars, trucks, and motorcycles, but also from the increasing fury of dust storms. A gray blanket frequently covers cities in southern Iran due to pollutants from refineries and petroleum production facilities in the paths of frequent dust storms.
In 2013, the University of Southern California (USC), in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), organized a U.S.-Iran workshop on megacities. Fifteen Iranian scientists and a comparable number of American colleagues made presentations at the workshop. In addition, USC arranged a day-long site visit of participants to the South Coast Air Quality Management District and organized a roundtable devoted to environmental engineering, air pollution, and health research involving graduate students and faculty members. These activities were held under the auspices of the National Academies.15
The workshop and related visits by the Iranian scientists to several U.S. cities where rampant air pollution was declining led to a reciprocal event in early 2015 in Tehran. There the call for action to curtail the ever-growing level of air pollution resonated through the halls of government, academic laboratories, and residences. Then the municipality of Tehran and the University of Tehran joined in inviting experts from several countries to bring specific examples of successful experiences elsewhere to the table, experiences that would be helpful in combating a problem with huge health and welfare implications for millions of Iranians.
The National Academies responded to the request of the conference organizers to send two appropriate keynote speakers. The positive reactions in Tehran to their participation were impressive. The American experts suggested practical and inexpensive steps to improve estimates of urban air pollution at specific locations that could guide monitoring strategies. They emphasized more effective use of available monitoring equipment and the importance of improved location of monitoring stations in Tehran. In short order, newly sited and better located monitoring sites could help identify the locations of the most important contributing sources to pollution. Pollution control could then focus on the most significant sources, whether they be
15 American Association for the Advancement of Science, The U.S.-Iran Symposium on Air Pollution in Megacities, Proceedings, September 3-5, 2013, Washington, D.C., 2014.
production facilities, uncovered waste sites, transportation centers, or other emitters of pollutants.16
8. Resilient Cities: As large segments of the populations of many countries continue their influx into urban areas, the topic of resilience has risen to a high place in the research portfolios of many U.S. universities and centers. Also, the topic has gained a prominent position on the agendas of city officials in a number of countries. Thus, the topic was a popular focal point for promoting cooperative ventures with Iran that addressed cities where urban growth is expanding.
The initial event of the National Academies was a bilateral workshop in the United States. This activity helped set the stage for a sustained cooperative effort involving a number of U.S. and Iranian organizations. Some American Iran-watchers have described this workshop as the most successful U.S.-Iran event held in the United States in recent years. Specialists from a number of disciplines broadened their perspectives of the complexity of improving life in bulging metropolitan areas while limiting the damage from natural disasters. They also became optimists that U.S.-Iran science engagement has the potential to demonstrate technical solutions for reducing vexing urban problems encountered around the globe.17
The success of the initial efforts pioneered by the University of Arizona and Sharif University of Technology far exceeded expectations. The two universities agreed to focus future collaborative efforts at a new Center for Resiliency on a campus of Sharif University of Technology. By the end of 2015, the center had recruited an initial cadre of talented Iranian scientists with a wide range of specialties. They had begun working with municipality leaders of Tehran, launching studies of the resiliency weaknesses of selected areas of the city. They focused initiatives on reducing earthquake vulnerability, conserving water, curtailing vehicular emissions, and highlighting the importance of preserving critical elements of the environmental landscape as the population spreads into areas on the edge of the city.
9. Climate Change: During the past decade, a number of U.S.-Iran bilateral interactions, along with discussions at international meetings, have
16 Discussion with American air pollution experts who participated in the conference in Tehran, June 2014.
17 University of Arizona, Proceedings of U.S.-Iran Symposium of Resilient Cities, June 16-18, 2014, Irvine, California, 2015.
led to assessments of the many drivers and significant impacts of climate change. But it was not until 2015 that the National Academies organized a U.S.-Iran workshop, again in California, with the University of Arizona having organizational responsibility, which was devoted to climate change in arid and semi-arid regions of the United States and Iran. Iranian specialists reported on the increased demand for manufactured goods and expanded transportation with climate change implications despite the economic slump in the country. They shared many reports of harmful environmental effects attributed to high temperatures, low rainfall, lengthy droughts, and poor allocation of resources.
The National Academies promptly scheduled a follow-on workshop for 2015. This workshop was held in France and attracted both well-known and early-career scientists. Several Iranian participants at the workshop in California also traveled to France. Presentations by experts from the three countries on the causes and effects of climate change provided a good foundation for continuing the pursuit of this topic in the years ahead, with important outputs for global discussions as well. Appendix F includes a range of cooperative follow-on activities that were suggested by the participants of the workshop. Some addressed the need for regional approaches along the borders of Iran. Others focused on the importance of Iran strengthening its policies and programs for addressing climate change. Already in early 2016, Iranian participants at the workshop in France reported progress in transforming some of the suggestions into action.18
10. Conservation of Wetlands: The international community recognizes 24 wetlands in Iran, covering 1.5 million hectares, as being of global importance. They are set forth within the framework of the Ramsar Convention, which has been adopted by more than 150 countries, including the United States.
Several of these wetlands, such as the area surrounding Lake Urmia, which is discussed above, are of considerable interest to the U.S. government. Nine are along the coastal areas of the Caspian Sea, with the conditions of the wetlands impacting the quality of the water of the Sea that in turn affects the coastlines of neighboring countries. The Howizeh marshes straddle the Iran-Iraq border and have influence on the quality of the increasingly contaminated atmospheric currents that flow from Iraq over Iran. The survival
18 University of Arizona, Proceedings of U.S.-Iran Symposium on Climate Change: Impacts and Mitigation, March 3-April 1, 2015, Irvine, California, 2016.
of Hamoon Lake in eastern Iran depends on diminishing water flows from the Helmand River that has headwaters in Afghanistan. There upstream growers of poppies continually expand their fields, using the limited water to increase supplies of heroin.
Wetlands are frequently linked to both economic and ecological conditions of large areas. Some sustain agricultural and fishery activities. Others are preserves of unique ecological resources. Still others serve as clean sanctuaries that contribute to the health conditions of nearby populations. Many have or could have ecotourism potential. Others are currently challenged by the slow rise in global temperatures and the associated effect on water resources and by growing populations that seek space in habitable areas that are shrinking.
Thus, in 2016, the National Academies arranged for 13 senior and early-career scientists from Iran to spend three weeks becoming familiar with U.S. efforts to conserve wetlands. The shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the areas surrounding the Great Salt Lake, and California coastal areas provided good examples of approaches that have been adopted to increase the economic contributions of wetlands while constraining activities that degrade the ecology of the areas. Perhaps the most surprising discovery for the Iranians was an area of wetlands in Indiana, distant from large water bodies. There they visited a wetlands that had been largely destroyed as it became a dumping ground for urban waste. Then local authorities rehabilitated the land into productive agricultural use. The visitors could relate to this experience as destruction of wetlands becomes increasingly common in too many regions of the world.19
The capstone event was the traditional workshop, with the University of Arizona again having organizational responsibilities. A proceedings was prepared and provided an important guide for many research activities of interest in the United States and Iran while setting a high standard for the quality of proceedings.
The Iranian team members shared their findings with colleagues at home. Within two months Iranian participants reacted by inviting the National Academies to participate in a workshop to be held in the near future in Ramsar, the site of the signing of the international convention devoted to conservation of wetlands three decades ago. The importance of continued cooperation in this field seems clear. In addition to expanding
19 University of Arizona, Proceedings of U.S.-Iran Symposium on Wetlands, April 4-6, Irvine, California, 2016.
interest in global approaches to conservation of wetlands as set forth in the international convention, additional steps are required to ensure compliance with other international agreements that touch on issues encountered in wetlands.
Other U.S. organizations also hosted groups of visiting scientists from Iran during the past several years. They arranged appropriate meetings and visits in fields of considerable interest. Several examples of such hosts are as follows:
- Georgetown University: Neuroscience
- Yale University: Substance Abuse and Management
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: (a) Food Supply in an era of climate change, and (b) Water and Soil Management
- Retina Group of the Carolinas: Ophthalmology Research and Treatment
The 2010 review of the National Academies’ programs identified the following five lessons learned, an observation that was reinforced during implementation of the program from 2010 through 2016:
- Committed and influential U.S. and Iranian leaders of projects are essential both to bring important specialists to the table and to navigate successfully through the governmental policies and procedures that determine whether and how each project can be implemented.
- The project leaders should be strongly encouraged to invite young professionals to be among the participants.
- When an opportunity for an activity of interest to both sides arises, immediate steps should be taken to carry out the activity even if it is not at the top of the priority list of activities-in-waiting.
- Documentation of results of projects that is publicly available can significantly magnify the impact of projects.
- An important criterion in selection of project participants should be the likelihood that they would have the interest and time to sustain the contacts made during the project.
Additional lessons that have become apparent in more recent years include the following.
- In considering impacts of projects, a forward look of three to five years is appropriate; and significant impacts of one-off events are difficult to achieve.
- Coordination among the various U.S. institutions interested in promoting engagement in overlapping fields of science and technology deserves priority.
- Appropriate publicity for progress and results of joint efforts, with solid scientific documentation available to support claims of accomplishments is important.
- Specialists and organizations from both countries should bring comparable capabilities of mutual interest to the table and share equally in assuming responsibility for implementation of the project and in taking credit for success.
- Participants in projects should focus on “science,” and then diplomatic successes will be easier to achieve.
- The importance of careful selection of highly qualified Iranian-Americans to help initiate and sustain institutional contacts cannot be exaggerated.
- The importance of establishing and maintaining relationships with prominent, capable, and enthusiastic advocates of science-engagement in Iran is essential.
As to specific projects carried out in the field of water and land management, the World Bank has published an excellent assessment of the lessons learned from a pilot effort in Mazandaran Province of Iran. The assessment underscores that the lessons learned in this effort have wide applicability in other areas of the country, as well as addressing pressing science, engineering, and management issues of broad concern throughout Iran. In future programs supported by the National Academies or other organizations with strong international experience, there should be opportunities to promote the concepts highlighted by the World Bank. (See Appendix G.)
INITIATIVES BY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Other U.S. organizations also have sponsored a number of science-oriented exchange activities in recent years. A few examples are set forth below.
1. I-Bridges: Emergence of High-Tech Entrepreneurs: In August 2014, Silicon Valley IT leaders, and particularly entrepreneurs from the Iranian-American diaspora, gathered in San Francisco. The event named iBridges attracted 700 IT enthusiasts interested in exploring opportunities for and challenges of high-tech entrepreneurship in Iran. In June 2015, the second iBridges event was held in Berlin where it attracted 1,100 participants from 50 countries, with the American contingent from Silicon Valley featured on center stage. At the time, engaging Iranians in high-tech ventures seemed complicated since the outcome of the nuclear negotiations in Lausanne and then in Vienna remained far from certainty. But the turn out of interested persons from the United States and Europe was impressive. A third iBridges event in December 2016 in Barcelona, Spain, attracted 200 participants from Europe, 120 from the United States, and 200 from Iran.
Were real investors with interests and clout at home and abroad in attendance at the iBridges events? Yes. For example, in Berlin, Saeed Amidi, the founder and CEO of the IT investment powerhouse Plug and Play in California, was one of the inspirational speakers. At his investment center in California (often described as Silicon Valley in a box), more than 300 companies and universities from around the globe have desks staffed by knowledgeable representatives ready to innovate, invest, or provide expertise. Every day a number of his colleagues who were trained in Iran are successfully matching investments with innovation in the United States and in many other countries.
Examples of Iranian companies that were represented in Berlin promoting their achievements included (a) Mamanpaz.ir, an online food delivery service with 200 customers a day, which offered dishes cooked by actual moms to customers who preferred home cooking to canteen or takeout food, (b) Maijo.com, a crowd-funding site to help Iranian entrepreneurs interested in art, music, and films of children, (c) Takhfiafan.com, a deal-of-the day website similar to Groupon, selling theater and concert tickets, and (d) Aparat.com, a video-sharing site showing music clips and films similar in concept to You Tube. While these were very modest initial efforts, their market orientation was impressive. Then in Barcelona, impressive Iranian applications in biotech, mart cities, and big data were on display. An Amazon-type enterprise had already entered the scene in Iran. Iranian government and nongovernmental leaders praised these and other new
ventures—often with exaggerated expectations about their futures.20 Since the 2015 event, many additional IT-based business ventures have been launched in Iran.
2. Biomedical Research: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been one of the most consistent U.S. organizations in supporting activities involving Iranian researchers, although their Iran-oriented activities began to decline after 2010. A high-profile activity of interest to American scientists has been Iranian investigations of the long-term health impacts on Iranian military veterans during their exposure to chemical agents in the Iran-Iraq war more than three decades ago. According to NIH-supported American investigators, an estimated 30,000 Iranian victims of the Iraqi chemical attacks (particularly mustard and sarin) were still alive in 2010. At the time, they reportedly were housed in Sasan Hospital and other facilities near Tehran. Unfortunately, little is known about recent medical findings of Iranian researchers that focus on this topic.21
3. HIV-AIDS: For several years, scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School have promoted collaborative activities in this field. They have successfully organized international meetings in Iran directed to youth and women in order to advance understanding of reproductive health issues. Also of interest has been the reduction in the infection rate along with reduction of the stigma of having contracted HIV-AIDS in Iran. In addition to bringing together Iranian and American investigators at conferences in Tehran, the organizers of this program have encouraged the spinning off of special-interest working parties.22
4. Bioethics: In the early 2000s, Iranian investigators, with strong encouragement by the National Academies, launched an investigation of the views of Iranian scholars, doctors, and theologians concerning a variety
21 Information provided by National Institutes of Health, February 15, 2012. See also, Robin Wright, “Iran Still Haunted and Influenced by Chemical Weapons Attacks,” Time, January 20, 2014.
22 Navid Madani, “Dialogue and Collaboration Open Up Opportunities That Are Vast and Truly Rewarding,” Cultures, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2014, p. 38.
of ethical issues.23 The focus was on bioethical considerations of human cloning and stem cell research, genetic screening, human material patents, and genetic research confidentiality. Their report, based on questionnaires and interviews in Iran, was well received by the World Health Organization, which had supported the research; but in time key members of the research team went on to other types of endeavors.
In more recent years, faculty members at Georgetown University have pioneered important cooperative approaches in related areas of bioethics, involving Iran and other countries. These scientists have met with scientific and religious leaders and visited a number of academic and research centers in Iran. Iranian bioethicists, researchers, and clinicians have in-turn visited and lectured at Georgetown and other U.S. institutions. Plans have been prepared for joint publications and for visiting scholar arrangements.24
5. Telecasts of Orthopedic Surgery: In 2014, the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of California in Los Angeles considered a series of telecasts involving orthopedic surgeons from the United States, Iran, and several other countries. The concept began with discussions of shared medical interests. Subsequent sessions were then to feature live broadcasts of surgical procedures being carried out at designated locations, with transmission of the surgeries to other participating medical centers in distant countries. During the surgeries, there were to be open lines between the team supporting the surgery and collaborators abroad which permit immediate commentary by on-site observers and the international collaborators concerning surgical approaches, successful procedures, and problems that are encountered. The initial discussions attracted attention of surgeons at Tehran University of Medical Sciences. Initial plans called for eventual coverage of spine surgery, total knee arthroplasty, shoulder surgery, limb lengthening, radiology, anesthesiology, and road traffic trauma. This program is still in its early stage.25
23 Mohammed Reza Zali, Mansoureh Saniee, Attitudes of Iranian Scholars and Theologians towards Bioethical Considerations of Cloning, Genetic Screening, Patents, and Confidentiality, Research Center for Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases, Shaheed Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, May 29, 2005.
24 Irene Anne Jillson, “The United States and Iran, Gaining and Sharing Scientific Knowledge through Collaboration,” Science and Diplomacy, March 2013.
25 Information provided by Edward Johnsen, UCLA, March 10, 2016.
6. Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs): International interest in MOOCs grew rapidly in 2013-2015. There were concerns in Washington over unfettered access by Iranians to these courses. Of particular interest has been access by Iranian students, along with others, to advanced courses being offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the same time, comparable courses offered by the University of California system have also been under consideration.
In 2014, the U.S. government authorized access by interested Iranian students to MOOCs that were devoted to technical subjects traditionally associated with undergraduate-level classes. As to graduate-level classes, Iranian students were not permitted to participate in courses in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The U.S. government decided that such access would not be in the national interest, and therefore denied a request for an OFAC license for opening these courses to Iranian students.26
In time, it may be that any course that is put on line will be accessible throughout the world; and the only restriction will be focused on the recognition that is given by the universities for satisfactory completion of courses. Some universities may decide to grant degrees based on MOOCs, with the final examination for each course conducted in person on campus. Others may decide simply to issue certificates and not degrees for participation in MOOCs.
Beyond the foregoing areas of interest to a variety of organizations, an initiative of the Institute for International Education (IIE) was particularly important for universities. IIE has been a focal point for international student exchanges, working under contracts with the department. It maintains an authoritative database on international student exchanges that go back several decades. Each year IIE publishes Open Doors, which contains detailed information about students from Iran and other countries who study in the United States and also American students who study abroad. IIE sent teams of staff and university faculty members to Iran in 2015 and 2016, primarily to arrange for expanded student exchanges but also to encourage faculty-faculty interactions.27
A GOOD BEGINNING BUT A DIFFICULT ROAD AHEAD
Progress has been recorded in bringing the Iranian scientific community more directly into the mainstream of international science and in encouraging American scientists to reach out to Iranian colleagues who are often known only through their publications or through intermediaries. But follow-up activities are important if the National Academies’ initial efforts set forth in this chapter are to lead to sustainable relationships. The longer that uncertainty concerning engagement dominates the political scene, the more difficult it will become to restore much of the advocacy and momentum for science-engagement that the National Academies have developed since 2000.
This page intentionally left blank.