US-Iranian relations have taken a turn for the worse. The time for hands extended in friendship has been replaced by menacing fists, as both sides ratchet-up the rhetoric.
The US has tried to be the dominant superpower in the Middle East for decades.
With hundreds of thousands of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, on either side of Iran's borders, Tehran feels surrounded.
For the US, Iran is the perfect target, big enough to justify a major US build-up in the region, with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, and a leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, threatening to go nuclear.
Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski
US national security advisor, 1977-81
Ambassador Thomas Pickering
US under-secretary of state, 1997-2000
Former chief of staff, US State Department
Jon B Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Ali Akbar Salehi
Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency
For its part, Tehran wants to reassert its regional role.
With internal discontent and weakened neighbours, confronting US hegemony strengthens the regime's credibility.
However, the threat of international sanctions, or even military strikes, makes this a dangerous gamble, for both sides.
So will this mini cold war continue, giving both US and Iran time and face to get back to the negotiating table, or will the bellicose words lead to a confrontation that neither side wants?
We ask veteran Iran specialists, former officials and military experts whether diplomacy has been exhausted, if there is a future for sanctions, and perhaps the biggest question, can the US live with a nuclear Iran?
This episode of Empire airs from Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 1900; Thursday: 0300, 1400; Friday: 0600; Saturday: 1900; Sunday: 0300.