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Iran nuclear talks: Look to cooperation of US-Iran scientists

As talks about Iran’s nuclear program began today in Kazakhstan, it's worth noting the success of ongoing, respectful collaboration between American and Iranian scientists and public-health experts. Such exchanges can cut through the deepest political and media rhetoric.

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European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili meet before talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan Feb. 26. Op-ed contributors Amb. John Limbert and James Miller say 'two-way scientific engagement has been the cornerstone of science and health diplomacy.' These civilian exchanges 'offer a critical alternative to the vested interests of the extremist positions we now face.'

Stanislav Filippov/Reuters

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As talks about Iran’s nuclear program began today in Kazakhstan between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran, many are doubtful that a suitable agreement will be reached. Relations between the United States and Iran present seemingly insurmountable challenges driven by more than 30 years of mistrust and missed opportunities on both sides.

Unfortunately, we cannot undo that history. However, we do have a choice either to ignore history – or benefit from its lessons. One of those often-overlooked lessons is the demonstrated success of ongoing, respectful collaboration between American and Iranian scientists, doctors, and public health experts. Such exchanges benefit the people of both countries and have the ability to cut through the deepest political and media-driven rhetoric. They offer a critical alternative to the vested interests of the extremist positions we now face.

Two examples of this include recent work in Iran with Iranians, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and others from the Middle East and North Africa on HIV/AIDS research and education. That work culminated in the first international and fifth annual HIV/AIDS conference in Tehran.

The second example of American-Iranian citizen collaboration is occurring now in the Mississippi Delta, where Iranian doctors and public- health experts are helping adapt Iran’s highly cost effective, rural primary-care system to meet the health-disparity challenges in that impoverished region of the US.

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