The week I talked to the Head of the Iranian Delegation, who is not only a diplomat, but also a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. My fellow IKV Pax Christi Lobbyists and I all agreed: Talking to this Ambassador was the highlight of an already very eventful day.
By Willem van den Berg*
After weeks of preparation and anticipation, the day we had all been waiting for finally arrived. We spent twelve hours at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva lobbying diplomats from every corner of the earth, asking them about their stance on nuclear issues and urging them to sign a joint statement about the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The day was long, full of hard work, and frequently filled with the search for coffee through the labyrinth-like UN building. Near the end of the afternoon I was enjoying a coffee break while physically and mentally exhausted, and ready to call it a day. That’s when my fellow student looked at his cell phone and bluntly stated “Meeting with Iran in five minutes.” We rushed upstairs and started a conversation that turned out to fully re-energize me.
The first question to the ambassador was answered in a scientific, not a diplomatic way. He mentioned the effects of nuclear radiation and began to talk about X-rays. I was worried that he would handle every question in this technical way, by talking around the real political issues and talking so much we would hardly get any questions in. But after a few more of our questions his manner changed; his eyes lit up and he enthusiastically told us he was willing to stay till midnight to answer our questions.
Many of our questions were tackled head on and he recounted many of his own personal experiences: experiences as a scientist, a diplomat, and a soldier. Many of the answers were thorough, although in my opinion not all were very convincing, and most were predictable to me. The predictable bit was the good guy /bad guy explanation. Iran was clearly the good guy; the US was clearly the bad guy. Iran was described as a peace loving country, her neighbors not so much. Iran’s nuclear program was for peaceful purposes we were told, and Iran supported a nuclear weapons ban.We were talking to a seasoned diplomat and our questions were answered in a way that was thorough and critical while also friendly.
Burden of proof
When one of us brought up the question of the current economic crisis in Iran the Ambassador struggled to answer it appropriately though. A direct answer to the question was not given, and the burden of proof was shifted by comparing Iran with impoverished third world countries, rather than with before the sanctions were increased. This gold coated picture of Iran had several significant cracks in it I think, but overall it was a refreshing alternative explanation to much of the Western media where Iran is so often demonized.
I left the discussion feeling energized and motivated for the next day. Although one can argue with some of the what was said, this was a first class introduction to diplomacy and certainly affected my thinking on several issues. As was said during our meeting, : “as a scientist 2+2 = 4, as a diplomat 2+2 is negotiable.” In the next days we have a lot more negotiating to do.
* Willem van den Berg is a student International Relations, History, Philosophy at University College Roosevelt Academy and is one of the Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course students of this year.