Some areas of potential collaboration we identified include public health, where Iran’s successes in family planning, drug treatment, and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention have drawn praise from U.S. and other international researchers and agencies; medical research of heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and loss of eyesight, where Iranian advances have generally been made by non-government institutions; stem-cell research, which, unlike in America, is not thwarted by theological polemic, in part because many Sunni and Shia sects believe that a fetus is infused with a soul only at the age of 120 days; and environmental protection, where a local adviser to international organizations operating in Tehran tells us that environmental protection projects are already funded by multilateral mechanisms to which the United States is usually a main financial contributor, and where Iran has already coordinated with its neighbors to mitigate the effects of oil drilling in the Caspian Sea.
Iran’s poor integration into the international system, however, has an impact on exchange even in noncontroversial areas. A research doctor at the Royan Institute in Esfahan reported that Iran’s exclusion from the World Trade Organization has limited its access to scientific equipment and replacement parts. A seasoned diplomat told us that because of sanctions, until very recently Iran Air had not been able to buy spare parts for its airbus fleet for 27 years, and that the situation had become increasingly dangerous for air travelers within Iran. On a more personal level, the suspicious treatment of Iranians entering the United States discourages collaboration and people-to-people exchange. In the summer of 2006, for instance, more than 100 prominent Iranian academics attempted to enter the United States for a reunion of the prestigious Sharif Industrial University’s alumni. They all had valid visas, but half were deported because of concern among American border agents about the sudden high number of visiting Iranians. Such spontaneous and uneducated reactions are counterproductive and should be prevented.
In some areas of culture, cross influences seem to persist regardless of the difficulties of communication and collaboration. Our encounters with viewers of American television and movies attest to this, as does the reception given Iranian art films by American cinephiles. A U.S. wrestling team that has competed in post-revolutionary Iran for almost a decade has succeeded in establishing strong ties with Iranian counterparts as well as wrestling fans. We also note with approval the recent lifting of a ban on Iran by Fifa, the world football ruling body, just hours ahead of the draw for the 2007 Asian Cup finals. Remembering the role that table tennis played during the early 1970s in the thaw in relations between the United States and China, we welcome the possibility of a U.S.-Iranian contest in the 2010 World Cup.