I was in Iran just before the US presidential election in 2004, and everywhere I went--but particularly within Iran's oil industry--Iranians said they wished that the world got to vote in the US election. In their opinion, the US president would affect their lives more than those of Americans, who would continue our lives of barbecues and driving to the mall regardless of who was in the White House. For Iranians, on the other hand, the outcome would influence their government's actions towards either openness or more isolation. More importantly, a president somewhat open to Iran could have led to lifting sanctions against Iran, which would have created desperately needed jobs in Iran and allowed more Iranians to travel to the US to see their relatives or get educations.
Now it's Iran's turn to hold an election and this time the US has a lot at stake. The outcome of the election could dramatically change the US's options in withdrawing from Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan, reducing the money and effort we expend on policing the oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, and allowing US firms to invest in Iran's oil industry.
But how far apart are they really?
At noon today, my New America Foundation colleagues Steve Clemons and Flynt Leverett are hooking up with Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow to release a poll on Iranian attitudes towards the election. They show a potential win for the President, but they also show an enormous desire to engage with the US. 70 percent favor investment by the US, and 69 percent say that the most significant way the US could improve relations would be to create a free trade treaty between the two countries.
Of course, Americans won't get to vote in Iran's election, but we will have the option of acting in our common interests.
I hope we have as much guts as those women in green.