United States: Refusing To Talk With Iran Is A Mistake

Last Updated: October 4 2019
Article by Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. and John B. Bellinger, III

Donald Trump should use the U.N. General Assembly as an opportunity to open dialogue with Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani are in New York this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly. On Wednesday, Rouhani addressed world leaders, accusing the United States of "international piracy," and Washington ramped up sanctions on Iranian crude.

In late July, the Trump administration took the unusual step of imposing sanctions on Zarif, freezing whatever assets he might have had in the United States, prohibiting Americans from engaging in transactions with him, and suspending his visa to enter the country. Although the White House made an exception to allow Zarif to attend meetings at the U.N. General Assembly, the administration says it will refuse to speak with him while he's here.

Sanctioning Iran's top diplomat is counterproductive—and so is avoiding conversation. As the Trump administration deploys troops to Saudi Arabia and considers the possible use of military force against Iran in response to attacks earlier this month on Saudi oil facilities, the United States should look to open, not cut off, channels of diplomatic communication with Iran. As U.S. Sen. Rand Paul tweeted when the sanctions on Zarif were announced, "If you sanction diplomats you'll have less diplomacy."

Trump administration officials justified sanctioning Zarif, who was Iran's lead negotiator in the run-up to the 2015 nuclear deal, by asserting that he acts as a propagandist for the Iranian regime. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran's Supreme Leader, and is the regime's primary spokesperson around the world." Then-U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton used blunter language, calling Zarif a "con man" and a "grifter." But even if administration officials disagree strongly with Zarif's message and defense of his country, he still remains Iran's senior diplomat and designated interlocutor with the United States. The United States would be incensed if other countries sanctioned its secretary of state on similar grounds.

U.S. presidential administrations have a long history of working with foreign diplomats with whom they disagreed. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said of Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Union's longtime foreign minister: "as the spokesman of a country that had never prevailed except by raw power … he was obliged to test his mettle in every encounter. … He protected his country in times of turbulence and confusion; he masked its weakness; he advanced its purposes." The two men were adversaries, but cultivated a sense of mutual respect.

The notion that Zarif is no more than a feckless shill for Iran does not check out. Anyone who paid close attention to the negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, from which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018, observed that Zarif handled those complex talks capably. He wields significant influence in the Iranian government. Indeed, the Trump administration, through its strong criticism of that deal and decision to withdraw from it, has in the past offered Zarif backhanded praise. From the Trump administration's point of view, Zarif bested not only the Obama administration but also British, Chinese, French, German, Russian, and European Union diplomats who participated in the negotiations.

So far, the sanctions imposed on Zarif appear to be largely symbolic. He says he has no property in the United States, and it is unlikely that he would engage in any financial transactions with U.S. nationals.

However, the sanctions also suspend Zarif's visa to enter the United States, unless the U.S. secretary of state makes a specific exception. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waived the prohibition this week—but any other decision would likely have violated the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, which the U.S. signed in 1947. Under the agreement, the United States agreed not to impose restrictions on travel to the U.N. by representatives of U.N. members, subject to a congressional reservation that the United States had the right to "safeguard its own security." Although the United States has in the past denied visas to several Iranian diplomats on the basis of this security reservation, those individuals had been directly involved in the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Trump administration officials may dislike what Zarif is saying, but they have offered no evidence that he has been involved in attacks on Americans or otherwise poses a threat to the security of the United States.

When then-Secretary of State John Kerry met with Zarif during the 2013 U.N. General Assembly, it was the first time a U.S. secretary of state had formally met with an Iranian foreign minister in nearly four decades. Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Zarif at the 2017 U.N. General Assembly. There have been no such meetings since.

Two years later, the United States has a broad agenda of issues to discuss with Iran, including the attacks on Saudi Arabia, Americans unjustly detained by Tehran (an issue on which the authors are advising an American family), nuclear nonproliferation, the security and well-being of Israel and U.S. partners in the Persian Gulf, Tehran's regional meddling, and secure navigation through the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz.

The United States cannot resolve this slate of issues through self-isolation and disdain for Iran's diplomats, even in the face of bitter disagreements. Progress requires engagement with Iran, including with Zarif. It is time for U.S. and Iranian diplomats to get back to work, with the respect and seriousness that the current situation demands.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions