Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, negotiators for their nations, the US and Iran respectively, had become friends. Their relationship was interfering with their work. The story as told by Robin Wright in the July issue of THE NEW YORKER, is one every adult American needs to read in order to understand the larger picture: that of the people of Iran who, after living in a “pariah nation” for decades “crave normalcy,” re-entry into the world community, and a relationship with the outside world — but on their own terms. In my previous post, I conveyed their story, noting that in ten to fifteen years, when the Iranian Nuclear Deal will expire, there will be a new generation at the helm of government in Iran. The old hard-liners of today will have aged or passed away. In this post I wish to tell the rest of the story of how the members of the negotiating teams found their new-found relationships and friendships getting in the way of their negotiations. It’s a story well worth the read. It’s all about human relations. Enjoy the read.
The final deadline was supposed to be June 30th. The negotiating teams worked throughout June to get the talks back on track. Kerry and Zarif returned to Vienna for the final round on June 28th, two days before the deadline. They missed it. The major powers had to extend it three times. Ministers from other countries flew in and out of Vienna as the U.S. and Iranian teams debated their differences.
The diplomacy was supposed to be transactional. But at moments it was transformational, for two countries at odds about so much else. For twenty months, the Americans and the Iranians ate separately, often in small, adjacent dining areas. ”At a certain point, it just started to feel strange that they had never actually shared a meal together,” Kerry’s aide said. Zarif invited Kerry and his team to lunch on July 4th in the Iranians’ dining room, where he had ordered Persian food. “It was ten times better than the food we ate on our side of the house,” the aide told me. “It was a moment where it was clear–we knew it, sort of, without remarking on it–that these relationships had really developed over time.” Kerry and Zarif commiserated about pressures at home. Kerry mentioned members of Congress who were complaining that local political ads already opposed any deal with Iran. Zarif told Kerry about an Iranian newspaper warning that he shouldn’t come home if he compromised too much with the Americans.
The chasm was still deep. “Even when we can be, you know, just conversational with each other, there can come a moment in the middle of that–I would say them, more–when we revert back to form,” the State Department official said. “It can all of a sudden come out of the blue, when I think they can realize they’ve gotten too familiar.”
The next meltdown was on July 5th. The Iranians regularly griped about the indignity of international sanctions tarnishing a historic civilization and causing unnecessary suffering. During one long-winded tirade by Zarif, Kerry cut him off: “You know, you’re not the only nation with pride.”Tensions increased that afternoon. When Kerry and Zarif started shouting at each other, a Kerry staffer slipped in to say that they could be heard down the corridors of the Palais Coburg.
The next night, with another deadline imminent, Kerry offered Zarif a package deal, to get beyond the inteminable issue-by-issue squabbles. In a meeting with the major powers, Iran accused them of pulling back from agreed terms. At one point, Zarif shouted, “Never threaten an Iranian!” (When news of the flap spread, #neverthreatenaniranian quickly became a popular Twitter hashtag.)
“Or a Russian!” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said, in an attempt to break the tension. Subsequent reporting implied that Russia sided with Iran, a long-standing ally. In fact, the Americans claimed, Lavrov regularly played a constructive role in calming the emotional Zarif.
The U.S. and Iran remained so far apart that Kerry told Zarif and the other foreign ministers that he was prepared to leave the next day. He would be available by phone if Zarif wanted to negotiate seriously. ”A lot of us felt, at that point, like we were in real trouble,” Kerry’s aide said. The next day, Zarif brought a point-by-point response to the proposal.
”It’s such a complex set of relationships,” the State Department official said. “We know each other. All of the mistrust that has been there for these decades remains. It’s not gone. It’s incredibly present all the time. But it fights against the fact that we’ve spent two years getting to know each other.”
Over the next week, negotiations sometimes drifted, as the parties nibbled away at differences. The terms to limit Iran’s nuclear program were wrapped up first. The most sensitive issues often had a link to Iran’s milltary, especially the powerful Revolutionary Guards. The final differences were sorted out in a meeting, shortly before midnight, on July 13th, with Kerry, Zarif, and Federica Mogherini, of the European Union. “They basically kicked everybody out who wasn’t a minister and figured out the end,” Kerry’s aide said.
The next morning, Iran and the six major powers met to formally confirm the terms. The final statement read, “With courage, political will, mutual respect, and leadership, we delivered on what the world was hoping for: a shared commitment to peace and to join hands in order to make our world safer.”
Afterward, each minister made remarks about the collaboration. Kerry, who spoke last, recalled going off to war as a young man, the traumatic experience of Vietnam, and his commitment, when he returned, to end that war. The diplomacy with Iran, he told his peers, was one time that he could prevent the horrors of war.
At the end of Kerry’s comments, his eyes welled up, his aide said. Others teared up, too, including the Iranians. Then everyone applauded. Zarif went off to make a brief announcement with Mogherini, while Kerry watched, on an iPad, President Obama’s remarks from the White House about the potentially historic deal. When Zarif finished, he walked backstage and patted Kerry on the shoulder. They shook hands, the aide recounted. “And that’s how he said goodbye.”
Robin Wright ends her article — yes, the author is a woman, who alone could write an article such as this conveying the emotional climate that permeated these negotiations with so much insightful detail — with promising, though typically conservative patriarchal, comments from General Martin Dempsey.
“We will always have military options,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the final days of diplomacy. “And a massive ordnance penetrator is one of them.” A new bomb to take out a future Iranian bomb.
“Everyone who believes that overnight this relationship is going to change is naive as hell,” the senior State Department official told me. “It’s not. It’s just too deep–particularly among Iranian government officials, many of whom were part of the revolution. So there may be a generational shift that has to take place everywhere. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of time.”♦
Yes, “a generational shift” is underway already, both here in America and in Iran and the rest of the world. The new generation calls for an end to wars. Enough is enough!
I don’t know about you, but I get choked up reading this report. I suppose it’s because I know that, left to ourselves, we the people would find a way to live in peace and harmony with one another. I long for that, as I’m sure we all do. Seeing these human beings torn between their own natural inner compulsion to relate to one another as people just like themselves, even as friends, and their nations’ political agendas, that had ironically brought them together in this crucible, just pierces my heart and brings tears to my eyes. O God, let it be so for the peoples of all nations! Let us relate to one another as members of one species with one common purpose: the creation of the beautiful and harmonious world on this beautiful harmonious planet. Let it be so. ♥
Anthony Palombo, DC
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