30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

About the Iran-U.S. Relations Project

GENERAL

The Iran-U.S. Relations Project promotes the multinational, multi-archival exploration of “hot button” issues in the two countries’ complex relationship spanning more than 70 years.

Our documentary holdings, amassed from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and archival spelunking on location in Tehran, Baku, Moscow, London and elsewhere, range from a complete collection of the published, shredded files taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, to the thousands of pages covering key episodes from the 1946 Azerbaijan crisis and the 1953 coup to the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, all the way to the current nuclear negotiations.

Many of these materials have broken new ground—including the first-ever official acknowledgement by the CIA of its role in the Mosaddeq coup, portions of the State Department’s late 1970s White Paper on Iran, and the secret demarche from President Clinton to President Khatami in 1999. Our distinctive conferences have brought together former policymakers and experts from both sides, uncovering important historical evidence and candid insights into official Iranian and U.S. thinking.

PHASES OF THE PROJECT

Iran has been a subject of sustained interest for the Archive since its founding in 1985. During those early years, the project’s primary mission was to document United States policy toward Iran since World War II. Through systematic FOIA requests, acquisition of the so-called Nest of Spies publications from Iran, and research in the U.S. National Archives and presidential libraries, the Archive compiled and published several documentary collections, along the way becoming a nonpartisan go-to source for Congressional, Independent Counsel and media inquiries into the burgeoning Iran-Contra affair.

Following the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami and his declaration of interest in launching a dialogue among civilizations, the project shifted its emphasis to the Iranian dimension. Project staff made several trips to Iran to build connections with scholars and institutions interested in a more fact-based, less politicized, rendering of the Iran-U.S. historical relationship. The Archive contributed significantly to a number of international conferences between 1998 and 2004 centered on the period prior to the Iranian revolution, including the only known public—indeed televised—event in Iran on the Mosaddeq era and the 1953 coup. This phase of our activities helped lay the foundation for all subsequent initiatives of the project.

Shortly after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s election in 2005, the Archive teamed up with three long-time supporters of its work to develop a new line of inquiry. They were: John Tirman of the Center for International Studies at MIT, and Jim Blight and janet Lang, initially of the Watson Institute at Brown University, and later the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Ontario. Hussein Banai, now an assistant professor at Indiana University, soon joined the project as a partner. The new approach involved inviting former policymakers from different countries to take part in an innovative series of multilateral dialogues designed to go beyond the documentary record by eliciting their unique perspectives on the nature of Iranian and U.S. relations, with a special focus on the post-revolution period. The dialogue format, originally devised by Blight and Lang, is known as “critical oral history” (COH) and is remarkably effective at bringing to light previously obscure facts and viewpoints.

PROJECT SUPPORT

Funding has come primarily from the Arca Foundation, MIT, and the Carnegie Corporation. The Open Society Institute and the Winston Foundation provided invaluable early backing.

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