By Mikaela Tenner
It has been quite a year for American-Iranian relations. The emergence of the Iran Nuclear Deal last summer caused worldwide debate and the beginning of renewed relations between the two nations when the United States signed onto a deal allowing Iran to have a monitored nuclear program. The two countries were once again on the forefront of international news on Jan. 13, when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took ten American soldiers hostage. Soon after their detention, Iran released footage of the ten soldiers on their knees, apologizing for mistakenly drifting into Iranian waters. According to the Obama Administration, while on a voyage from Kuwait to Bahrain, the sailors’ boats encountered mechanical problems. While attempting to resolve the mechanical failure, the two boats supposedly drifted too close to Iran’s Farsi Island, located nearly 200 miles from Iran’s mainland. Although the soldiers were released within 24 hours of their capture, this incident reveals that despite renewed relations between the United States and Iran, a troubling divide still remains between the two countries.
With Congress’s recent approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal, relations between the United States and Iran have undoubtedly improved over the last few months. Secretary of State John Kerry credited this recent advancement to allowing a relatively easy negotiation with Iran for the sailors’ release, commenting that this type of negotiation never would have been possible just half a decade ago. The improvement of relations, and the economic benefits that are set to come with it may indeed have been one of Iran’s motivating factors in releasing the sailors so quickly. World powers, including the United States, were set to lift sanctions on Iran on Jan. 16, and detaining the sailors any longer potentially could have prevented this large boost to the Iranian economy. Although the resolution of this event certainly does indicate an improval of relations between Iran and the United States, the circumstances surrounding it reveal the distrust that remains between the two countries.
Despite Iran’s quick release of the soldiers, the harsh punishment of sailors who accidentally sailed into their waters indicate that they may have thought that the American soldiers had ulterior motives. It is unclear whether or not the Iranian officials thought that the Americans were spies, but some American sources suggest that such a capture and subsequent humiliation caught on camera, was too harsh a response if Iranian officials had thought their entering their waters a mistake. Furthermore, Iranian officials seemed to project an interesting portrayal of the situation to its own citizens. Soon after capturing the American sailors, news of the capture was released on Iranian television. One of the most revealing moments of this news segment waswhen the camera panned over all the weapons that the Americans had on board. To the average Iranian, seeing something like this on television could lead them to question American intentions in recent negotiations with Iran. In a country where politicians often refer to the United States as “Big Satan,” this leaked image likely did nothing but add to the Iranians’ negative perception of Americans.
The reaction to the incident in the United States also reveals a strong amount of distrust surrounding the Iranian regime. The debate over the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015 revealed a deep divide, both in Congress and among the American public, as to whether or not the United States should trust Iran. This recent incident once again sent Americans into a frenzy, as it became one of the most discussed topics of Thursday night’s GOP debate. Although it is now too late to back out of the deal, many Americans seemed to take this incident as nonnegotiable proof that Iran should not be trusted, particularly when it comes to such a significant matter as nuclear weaponry. The recent capture and subsequent dialogue, primarily that amongst the Republican candidates indicate that the improvement of Iranian relations could potentially be derailed with the change of presidential administration in 2016.
However, the fact that this incident did not start an armed conflict is a sign that relations are slowly but surely improving. Both the current Iranian and American governments have expended a great deal of effort to get to the point where relations are today, and have created a more diplomatic approach to crisis between the two powers. With more nonviolent negotiations such as this one, there’s hope that the distrust between the two countries will eventually fade away.