Role of the Personality in Diplomacy?

Photo Credit: UN/Evan Schneider: Mohammad Javad Zarif

 The Supreme Leader has given Iran’s nuclear deal with the US (and other global powers) only a cool endorsement. Similarly, many US Congressional leaders, particularly Republicans, are at best unenthusiastic and perhaps hostile to the degree of undermining it even before mutually satisfactory details can be hammered out. Could it be merely that the strategic interests of Iran or the US can be seen so differently by those who are presumably committed to the same result,  best for their country’s geopolitical standing?  While President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have sought an elusive negotiated resolution over potential military confrontation and ever more punishing sanctions, most US Senators have encouraged the more confrontational approach with greater uncertainties once diplomacy is abandoned. Perhaps some are playing to different constituencies, and the efforts of the current Israeli PM Netanyahu have only added to the test of political wills as well as varying strategic views.

Similarly, in Iran the hardliners have built a career on animosity toward the US, justified or not. They need the confrontation while most of Iran’s citizens need sanctions relief as well as the opportunity to open the door to a perhaps more open society, one consistent with a more cosmopolitan Persian culture, before and during Islam. Iran’s Supreme Leader leans toward the reactionaries as his own hold on power is similarly derived, but he cannot openly challenge what is so obviously in the economic interests of Iran and its relatively educated people. Iran’s President Rouhani seeks to open the door a bit more, as compared to the Supreme Leader, and the “nuclear deal” is part of the lever as well as end in itself. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif is the means to execute, almost a too obvious choice – from US college student to Iran’s most open diplomat when we served as colleagues at the UN in the 1990’s (See below Link) to his country’s most capable representative now. The hero’s welcome Javad Zarif received upon his return to Iran is very different from the one given to him by hardliners on a previous occasion when the negotiations had started, and he was shunned for even engaging with the Americans.  Zarif is now developing a broader constituency, a majority of Iran’s citizens seeking a better life with greater global openness. However, no doubt he is also now more than ever the target – the risk the peacemaker must be prepared to embrace even more so than the warrior. (During our negotiations for a very “bad peace” for Bosnia & Herzegovina in Dayton in 1995, then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a “Jewish extremist” for seeking peace with the Palestinians.)


President Obama and Secretary Kerry face real political challenges in moving forward with the “Iran Deal.” President Rouhani and FM Zarif may face existential risks, and the opponents undoubtedly present themselves within the reality or guise of the patriot.  Some of the difference is in perception of strategic interests.  Much is in the playing to one’s core constituency. However, the nuance of personality also comes into play, from courage to openness to inclusion and to whether one’s perception of the world is defined by the different hues of nationality, race, religion or gender or the understanding of that which unites us all as humans. Javad Zarif’s American and international experience has shaped his views and approach. Here is what we wrote almost 2 years earlier when President Rouhani came to office and also appointed Zarif as Iran’s Foreign Minister and most critically to pilot Iran to more open waters:  (Read our Huff Post article then: “American Face to New Iran Foreign Policy.”)


Also, you can read our most recent Huffington Post article: “Iran Nuclear Deal Pits US Congress versus US Allies?”

By,  Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey



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