Foreign Policy quotes South Asia Center Nonresident Senior Fellow Barbara Slavin from her 2009 book Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies on US-Iran relations:
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States provided the Bush administration with a unique opportunity to improve relations with Iran. After the attacks, the Iranian people poured into the streets and the Khatami government made it clear that they were ready to help. According to Bruce Riedel, the United States and Iran worked together closely after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2001 to help establish the post-war Afghan government. As Barbara Slavin, a leading scholar of U.S.-Iran relations at the Atlantic Council, reports in her 2009 book Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies, “More than a dozen meetings were held between a handful of U.S. and Iranian diplomats from 2001 through May 2003.” This unprecedented level of cooperation even survived George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, which lumped Iran with its archenemy Iraq.
In May 2003, Iran sought to trade western acceptance of its right to a peaceful nuclear program in exchange for assistance in stabilizing Iraq and cooperation against al Qaeda. Unfortunately, the Bush administration, buoyed by its apparent success in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, rejected Iran’s proposal, undermined the Khatami government, and ruined any chance of achieving a lasting deal. In fact, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security advisor at the time, did not recall ever seeing the Iranian proposal. Both sides canceled their meeting scheduled for May 25, as Slavin writes. This marked the collapse of any efforts to improve relations during the Bush administration.