By Fareed Zakaria
We now know that the change in U.S.-China relations in 1972 led inexorably to China's becoming the economic power it is today–rich, market-based and open to the world. But that path was not at all visible 40 years ago, least of all to the Chinese. Even after 1972, the regime under Mao Zedong was thoroughly communist and largely hostile to the West. After Mao's death came years of internal struggle and chaos and then, unpredictably, the rise to power of China's real modernizer, Deng Xiaoping, who set his country on its great transformation. To make the parallel, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, is Mao, not Deng. And whatever Rouhani's views, he cannot change the nature of the regime.
In fact, the better analogy to consider for U.S.-Iran relations is that of another 1972 meeting, between Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow. It was the first time an American President had paid a state visit to the U.S.S.R., and it resulted in the beginning of detente–a series of steps that de-escalated the Cold War and allowed for better contact. For now, that might be the most one can expect for relations between the U.S. and Iran.