WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rising tensions between the U.S. and Iranian governments have frozen most scientific contacts between the two nations, experts reported at a forum here last week.
Long at the vanguard of efforts to broker ties between Iranian and U.S. scientists, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has mothballed its highly praised, 16-year-old engagement program, Glenn Schweitzer, director of NAS’s office for Central Europe and Eurasia, stated at a forum hosted by the Atlantic Council. That’s a huge blow to science diplomacy with Iran, as the academy’s program since its inception has accounted for more than half of all participants in U.S.-Iran science engagement activities—some 1500 scientists from 120 institutions—according to an NAS report released on Friday that summarizes the program’s activities from 2010 to 2016.
Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic relations, and as a result scientific ties have waxed and waned often in concert with the levels of hostility expressed by the two governments toward each other. Science engagement efforts were gaining momentum in 2015 and in early 2016, after the Iran nuclear deal was signed and came into effect. But President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts this year to restrict travel from Iran and five other Muslim-majority nations prompted Iran to retaliate by tightening its visa policy for U.S. citizens. Also casting a pall is Iran’s imprisonment of several U.S. citizens, including Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student in history at Princeton University sentenced in July by Iran’s judiciary to 10 years in jail over accusations of espionage.