The so-called "P5+1" group of countries which comprises the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France) plus Germany are expected to start a new round of negotiation concerning Iran's controversial nuclear programs in Geneva on October 15, 2013. It is reported that Iran will offer a new nuclear proposal at this meeting, which probably will constitute the most important and serious round of negotiations in recent history; especially in light of the unprecedented face-to-face, bi-lateral meeting between the most senior foreign policy officials of the U.S. and Iran on the side of the UN General Assembly opening session in late September and the new positive atmosphere that recent changes in Iran and these direct contacts have created.
The Iranian delegation will be led by a fresh face; the veteran diplomat and scholar, Iran's new Foreign Minister, Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif. He is a career diplomat with a PhD in international relations from the University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies [the alam mater of two remarkable American ladies who both became Secretary of State: Dr. Madeline Korbel Albright (daughter of School's distinguished namesake) and Dr. Condoleezza Rice]. Dr. Zarif has also been a professor of international relations at the University of Tehran and has written a graduate-level textbook on Multilateral Diplomacy (in Frasi, published in Iran).
In a perfect world, where idealists aspire for the leadership of "philosopher kings" and pragmatic scholars of high reliability operations advocate for "deference to expertise", one would expect that Dr. Zarif's counterpart, the leader of the P5+1 delegation to be an equally experienced U.S. diplomat and scholar, e.g., in the embodiment or at least a clone of Ambassador Dr. John W. Limbert. He was not only one of the American hostages, who spent fourteen months in Iran, but also is a seasoned U.S. diplomat with more than three decades in the foreign service; a unique and quintessential Iran's expert in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. He has a PhD in history and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University, and presently is a Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy. He has taught at the University of Shiraz in Iran and is fluent in Farsi language and is intimately familiar with Iran's history, culture, literature, social psychology, and politics.
Ambassador Limbert has literally written the "book" on how to negotiate with Iran. His seminal book "Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History" (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2009), constitutes the most comprehensive and user-friendly manual for American officials who will eventually have to engage in the complex process of talking with Iran.
Amb Limbert reminders us that "American negotiators will find that their Iranian counterparts are, like all of us, captive of their country's history and culture" (p 16), and as such, they should be mindful of looming ghosts and specters of past misdeeds and bad-blood between the two countries. Learning, and more importantly, internalizing Limbert's suggested "Fourteen Steps to Success" (Chapter 6) for negotiating with Iran, such as being sensitive to the other side's "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), as well as one's own... American negotiators should not convince themselves, "the Iranians will never be so foolish as to do X"" (p 166) should rigorously be followed on Oct. 15 in Geneva and beyond. The Chapter 7, "Overcoming Mutual Myth-Perception", is a fantastic finale of this masterpiece which further explores how most Americans see Iran and Iranians and concludes with this final recommendation and advice:
"Expect negotiations to fail through the fault of the other side and they probably will. Expect better and success becomes possible." (p. 194)
As the author of best-selling books, Secretary of State John Kerry himself has certainly experienced and could attest to the life-changing impact that a seminal book could have on its readers. Thus, he should strongly recommend or assign this handbook -- "Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History" (US Institute of Peace Press, 2009), as a "must read", if not to P5+1 delegations, at least to all members of the US delegation who are traveling to Geneva for attending the meeting with Iran on October 15, 2013.
Najmedin Meshkati is a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), and was a Jefferson Science Fellow and a Senior Science and Engineering Advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State (2009-2010).