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Posted on on February 22nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Our original posting of February 20, 2013 is right here, but now we have also the moderator’s evaluation of the meeting he chaired.

David Ignatius is aware of all sort of misgivings regarding the organizers of the meeting and we can add that there was no interest in having media that you cannot control present at the event – so in effect the David Ignatius comments are the first material we got now to digest.


European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Iran last week to show flexibility at this month’s talks between Tehran and six world powers aimed at defusing tensions over the Iranian nuclear program.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – and Germany will meet with Iran in Kazakhstan on February 26 for the latest round of talks in a 7-year-old attempt by the six powers to end the decade-long nuclear standoff with Tehran.

“We hope that Iran will come to this negotiation with flexibility and that we can make substantial progress,” Ashton told the 15-nation Security Council during a meeting on the United Nations’ cooperation with regional organizations.

“We’re engaging in intensive diplomatic efforts to seek a negotiated solution that meets the international community’s concern about the Iranian nuclear program,” she said.

Ashton has been taking part in and coordinating the so-called P5-plus-one group’s fitful negotiations with Iran.

The Islamic Republic has faced four rounds of U.N. sanctions and more draconian EU and U.S. sanctions due to its refusal to halt its enrichment program as demanded by the Security Council. Ashton said the EU was committed to continuing a dual-track strategy of combining pressure with dialogue.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is serious about those talks and expects the other side to be serious and forthcoming so that the next round of negotiations … in Kazakhstan would lead to positive and fruitful results,” an Iranian statement replied.

In his annual State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama said world powers were united in their desire to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons, though he left a door open to non-diplomatic avenues like force.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said Iran was “counting on there being positive and constructive steps made to resolve this problem at the upcoming meeting.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that the six powers were ready to respond if Iran came to the talks prepared to discuss “real substance.”

The presumably future Head of the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, is also known as ready to pursue an attempt at a  negotiation process with Iran.


20 February 2013 – 5:00pm
Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Khazaee joins former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering for a discussion moderated by award-winning journalist and author David Ignatius.

Since diplomatic relations were severed in 1980, the U.S.–Iran relationship has faced a towering legacy of mistrust, conflict, and missteps.

Hopes of breaking the decades-long impasse were raised four years ago when President Barack Obama offered Iran America’s hand of friendship if Tehran “unclenched its fist.”

In the interim, the United States has led the international community in putting in place the most comprehensive sanctions against Iran, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, bringing the long embattled relationship to the brink of conflict.

As the current confrontational course becomes increasingly dangerous, are the two nations on the road to war? Or is a political solution possible?

Iran’s highest-ranking official in the United States, Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee, joins former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering for a candid discussion on the future of U.S.-Iran relations, moderated by award-winning journalist and author David Ignatius.


Mohammad Khazaee Mohammad Khazaee is Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. From 2002 to 2007, he was Vice Minister for International Affairs and President of the Organization for Economic and Technical Assistance in Iran’s Ministry of Economic Affairs. Concurrently, he served as Governor of the OPEC Fund, Alternate Governor of the Islamic Development Bank, and a board member of the Iran-Misr (Iran-Egypt) Development Bank. Previously, he represented Iran at the World Bank (1988 to 2002) and served as a Member of Parliament (1981 to 1988).

Thomas R. Pickering In a diplomatic career with service in each of the major continents, Thomas R. Pickering reached the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the U.S. Foreign Service, retiring as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in 2000. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan. He also was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Most recently, he was appointed by Secretary of State Clinton to lead the Accountability Review Board probing the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

David Ignatius David Ignatius (moderator) is an associate editor and award-winning columnist for The Washington Post. He is also creator and co-moderator of “PostGlobal,” an online conversation about international affairs at He has written eight novels, including Body of Lies, which director Ridley Scott adapted into a film. He has received numerous honors, including the Legion of Honor from the French Republic, the Urbino World Press Award from the Italian Republic, and a lifetime achievement award from the International Committee for Foreign Journalism.


4:30-5:00 pm: Registration
5:00-6:30 pm: Discussion

This program is part of Asia: Beyond the Headlines, a series of conversations with leading policy makers and thought leaders about the critical issues facing the United States and Asia.


Iran at the New York Asia Society – points from the pen of the Moderator David Ignatius.

On Iran, a deal only in principle

Posted by David Ignatius on February 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, took questions this week at an unusual forum hosted by the Asia Society. Critics argued that the forum was simply an opportunity for Iranian propaganda, but as moderator of the discussion, I thought it made an important, if somewhat discouraging, point: There isn’t yet sufficient trust on either side for a broad agreement.

The discussion took place a week before the next negotiating session between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, scheduled for Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan. Khazaee’s stance might be described as forthrightly ambiguous. That is, he suggested a deal can be imagined in principle but cautioned that the environment isn’t conducive for making it happen in practice.

For example, when I asked whether Iran was ready to endorse a framework for resolving the nuclear issue that might involve caps on Iranian enrichment and export of existing stockpiles of enriched material, Khazaee answered “yes and no,” and then explained what he meant.

The “yes” part was that Iran was prepared to be flexible on such details as the level at which it enriched uranium and the size of the stockpile it maintained, so long as its basic right to enrichment was recognized. But the “no” involved the atmosphere in which such an agreement might be reached. “The point is … the mistrust that exists between the two countries. As soon as one side says something … [the other side] says there is a hidden agenda.”

Khazaee elaborated on a statement last week by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, that he won’t negotiate under pressure. The Iranian ambassador clarified that removal of sanctions wasn’t a precondition for negotiations and that there was no “red line” against diplomacy with the United States and the other P5+1 countries. But he insisted: “More pressure can only beget more distrust, leading Iran, in turn, to lose hope in a negotiated settlement.”

Thomas Pickering, a former senior U.S. diplomat who took part in the discussion, saw in Khazaee’s comments a positive sign that the supreme leader was still open to talks and prepared to be “reasonable,” as Khazaee quoted him saying. But Pickering argued that because of the deep suspicions on both sides, any U.S.-Iranian discussions should begin with “small steps” rather than a grand bargain.

It’s always useful when officials answer questions in a public forum, and I suspect that many in the audience came away encouraged that progress can be made in the negotiations. But Khazaee is a diplomat, and as his boss, the supreme leader, said bluntly in his statement last week: “I’m not a diplomat, I’m a revolutionary.”

The problem is that it’s hard to negotiate agreements with revolutionaries. That may be especially true if they feel there is a gun pointed at their head. A diplomat might compromise, but a revolutionary could well say: Go ahead, pull the trigger.

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