Diplomacy’s Long-Distance Race

MADRID ‒ The successful outcome of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program provides a splendid validation for those who put their faith in diplomacy. The agreement – concluded after more than a decade of talks – highlights the value of persistence in addressing impasses that seem insurmountable, and provides hope for the many other initiatives that will be needed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East.

The European Union, which initiated the talks, should be proud of its effort. And the United States’ role was remarkable, from Secretary of State John Kerry’s incessant work, even on crutches, to end the 35-year standoff between his country and Iran, to President Barack Obama’s critical push to complete the negotiations. Likewise, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani should be commended for his determination to complete the undertaking he began more than a decade ago, when he served as Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Rouhani and I met in 2003, sitting across from each other at the first nuclear talks, when our negotiating team was made up of only Europeans. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as President of Iran in 2005 derailed those talks and ultimately led to the imposition of sanctions. But I had seen how determined Rouhani was to reach an agreement. And, indeed, when Rouhani succeeded Ahmadinejad in 2013, a door opened.

Rouhani invited me to his inauguration in August 2013. During that visit, I was able to attend meetings with him and other top Iranian leaders, including Mohammad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and, later, its chief negotiator in the negotiations in Vienna. I quickly saw that with these men at Iran’s helm, an agreement would be possible.