Parsi begins in May 2003, when the Bush administration, then basking in the afterglow of its success in toppling Saddam Hussein, spurned a back-channel Iranian initiative to reach an overall settlement between Iran and the United States. He moves on to write the most incisive account available of the U.S.-Iranian diplomacy that has followed in the years since. Parsi’s emphasis is on the Obama administration, which sought a reset of relations with Iran but has instead presided over a deterioration in relations. This eminently readable, sometimes gripping book also examines the Iranian side of the equation and details the roles of many others players: the EU, Russia, China, the Arab states, Turkey, and even Brazil. The multiplicity of actors occurs not just between states but within them. The pressures exerted by Congress and lobbying groups on all U.S. presidents and the tensions within the American executive branch are mirrored by equivalent divisions within the Iranian leadership, which became even more acute after the country’s controversial 2009 presidential election. Nevertheless, Parsi argues that there is still a chance for diplomacy to allow the United States and Iran to break out of their “institutionalized enmity.”
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