SAN FRANCISCO Despite recent heated political rhetoric between their governments, a delegation of U.S. scientists and engineers met with their Iranian counterparts in Tehran in October.
Representatives of the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) and Engineering sought to expand a program of scientific cooperation with Iranian institutions that began in 1999.
Common ground was apparent when the Americans, hosted by the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and the Iranian Academy of Sciences, met with Iranian scientists and engineers. "One thing I've learned is that scientists and engineers share many values across cultures," said delegation leader William Wulf.
Those shared values include truth, objectivity and what constitutes ethical research, said Wulf, NAE president emeritus and a professor at the University of Virginia. Those values led to easier communication and a basis for building understanding and trust, resulting in professional collaboration even even though Washington and Tehran are at odds, he said.
"This was not a government-to-government dialogue. On the other hand, it was approved and even encouraged by the both the Iranian and U.S. governments," Wulf said.
The discussions between the two groups were straightforward, Wulf said. "We didn't run into any obfuscation. It was just very open," he said.
The technology issues discussed during the meetings were not strictly academic. Sadegh Vaez-Zadeh, Iranian vice president for science, suggested that scientists and engineers from both countries should look at monitoring inappropriate uses of technology, Wulf said.
"We asked if that would include weapons, and [Vaez-Zadeh] said yes," according to Wulf.
Wulf also noted that Iran is a relatively young country. By some estimates, two-thirds of the population is under 25. That age group enthusiastically welcomed the Americans. "Any time we were around young people, they just flew to us," Wulf said.
Some 1,800 students and professors packed a confernece room designed for 400 to hear physics Nobel laureate Joseph Taylor, a member of the U.S. delegation. "It was like a rock star," Wulf said.
And their interactions with other Iranians were equally positive.
Schoolgirls at a tourist outing to Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia, tried out their English and took photos with the Americans, Wulf said. "The image that much of the press is pushing of a theocratic, anti-Western country may be true of the regime, but it's not what we experienced among the people on the streetquite the opposite," Wulf said.
Several continuing joint efforts were announced, according to NAS spokesperson William Skane.