Sec. of State John Kerry and Iran
Staunch Diplomacy. A Historic Iranian Nuclear Deal

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| October 24, 2009                         
[Updated July 23, 2015]

John Kerry's Iran Deal: Smart Diplomacy or Appeasement?

Once a highly decorated young combat veteran, now a distinguished veteran American statesman, John Kerry first gained prominence in relation to his opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet history may show that his most consequential act may be his leading role in charting a new course in U.S.-Iran relations.

Kerry’s accomplishments began early. By age 27, he had earned three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star in Vietnam, co-founded Vietnam Veterans of America, and delivered an eloquent, influential war testimonial to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the invitation of Sen. William Fulbright.

Senator John Kerry Back in Massachusetts, Kerry became assistant district attorney, lieutenant governor, and in 1984, was elected U.S. Senator, a post he maintained for the next 24 years. With his keen interest in foreign policy, he also joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he had famously testified as a young man in April 1971.

John Kerry gained even wider prominence as the Democratic nominee in the 2004 Presidential race, losing to Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. The successful smear campaign launched by Bush’s supporters attacking his military service (“swiftboating”) has since become part of mainstream political vocabulary.

In 2009, Kerry, became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And in January 2013, Pres. Barack Obama selected him to succeed Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State.

Politics just might be a genetic predisposition for John Forbes Kerry. His father, fellow Yale alumni Richard J. Kerry (1915-2000), was a State Department official, U.S. Foreign Service officer and one-time adviser to Pres. Eisenhower. In his book The Star Spangled Mirror: America’s Image of Itself and the World (1990), the elder Kerry challenged the assumption of American exceptionalism, as exemplified by the likes of the “intensely moralistic” John Foster Dulles (whom he had known) and cited U.S. covert operations in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973).

A young John Kerry held views on Cold War strategy that were likely influenced by his father, but also paralleled that of Supreme Justice William O. Douglas or even certain black intellectuals of the era.

“Western imperialism”, argued Kerry in a prizewinning 1965 speech at Yale, “causes more fear among Africans and Asians than communism, and thus it is self-defeating.” In a subsequent Yale University speech in 1966, Kerry continued on this theme, foreshadowing some of his future pronouncements on U.S. entanglement in foreign lands. “In most emerging nations, the spectre of imperialist capitalism stirs as much fear and hatred as that of communism. To compound the problem, we continue to push forward our will only as we see it and in a fashion that only leads to more mistakes and deeper commitment.”

Such skepticism served him well in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his investigations of the Reagan administration’s secret involvement in Nicaragua became central to the sensational Iran-Contra hearings, the biggest scandal of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Iran would resurface in Kerry’s life in a big way as 68th Secretary of State. On September 26, 2013, discussions between the USA and Iran got under way on the sidelines of the United Nations headquarters, the first meeting of its kind since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Over the next two years, Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, along with his American colleagues and the P5+1, worked tirelessly to negotiate a settlement that would provide sanctions relief while ensuring a nuclear weapon remained unattainable for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

By March 2015, high level talks began in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in April, a framework agreement was reached. Finally, on July 14th, a historic nuclear deal was finalized in Vienna, potentially marking the beginning of, while not necessarily friendly relations, a new, more hopeful direction for the two nations.

Inevitably, there has been violent pushback from the Republicans in particular, who have vowed to do everything possible to kill the Iran deal when it comes up before Congress in September. The Israeli government, too, who had fought tooth and nail to prevent this day from happening, is predictably livid. Bibi Netanyahu denounced the deal as a “historic mistake”, and perhaps not since World War II has the name of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister most remembered for his failed appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany, been mentioned with such frequency.

While John Kerry and the Obama administration are raked over the coals by opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it might be useful to recall some of Kerry’s previous demonstrations of political courage under pressure.

“I remember Dick Cheney attacking John Kerry in 1986 for things John Kerry was saying about the Contras and the NSC and Oliver North. Every single thing John Kerry said was true. The attacks were aggressive, and were based on hopes, wishes, and politics—partisan politics, not reality.

John Kerry’s reality was proven—and it was proven—when the plane went down in Nicaragua, and it turned out that that was tied to the National Security Council, and money out of Saudi Arabia, and money from the Iranians, and ultimately, as we showed, related in part to narcotics money, at least in other elements of the Contra infrastructure.

There were a lot of people who were mad at John Kerry for having been right. The Reagan administration was, of course, furious. They didn’t want him anywhere near the Iran-Contra investigation, because he knew too much and he was too effective.” Jonathan Winer of the State Dept, May 28, 2004

“You know, everybody looks back, and says, “Oh, yeah. He and McCain [Sen. John McCain] normalized relations with Vietnam. [in 1995] Yeah, yeah.” As if that was easy. Think how unpopular that was at the time. These were the first two guys to stand up and say, “By the way, those folks that killed 57,000 of our people, those folks who wounded another 300 or some odd thousand of our people, those folks that are still communists — we think we should normalize relations with them.” That took incredible courage.

I remember when John started to do that, people thought he was writing his political death warrant. No joke.” Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), 2004


The lessons of Vietnam—and undoubtedly Iraq—were very much in mind when Kerry, who has an Iranian son-in-law, engaged with his Iranian counterparts. This frame of mind was emphasized when he met with with reporters in Vienna on the day the deal was announced.

“I will just share with you very personally, years ago when I left college, I went to war,” said Kerry, who entered on crutches. “And I learned in war the price that is paid when diplomacy fails. And I made a decision that if I ever was lucky enough to be in a position to make a difference, I would try to do so. I believe this agreement actually represents an come together with Iran to avert an inevitability of conflict that would come were we not able to reach agreement. I think that’s what diplomacy was put in place to achieve, and I know that war is the failure of diplomacy and the failure of leaders to make alternative decisions.”

To avoid direct military conflict and prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb with what amounts to an arms control accord, the United States has demonstrated the will, patience and bravery to negotiate with its most bitter, intractable enemy in the world.

Détente was achieved before with hostile countries like China and the Soviet Union, and more recently, the U.S. commenced the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba after 54 years of estrangement. There’s no reason why serious diplomatic engagement shouldn’t be attempted with Iran.

Time has laid bare the unquestionable imprudence of past U.S. policies toward Iran, and history will determine the wisdom of the path forward with equal lucidity.

1951: No Iran deal

With Iran, Think Before You Speak
New York Times Op-Ed: June 17, 2009

In the wake of the widespread protests against the fraudulent 2009 Presidential election in Iran, Senator Kerry cautioned against using blustering rhetoric, which he believed would only play into the hands of the hardliners.

“We can’t escape the reality that for reformers in Tehran to have any hope for success, Iran’s election must be about Iran — not America”, wrote Kerry in his New York Times Op-Ed. “And if the street protests of the last days have taught us anything, it is that this is an Iranian moment, not an American one.”

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967) “What comes next in Iran is unclear. What is clear is that the tough talk that Senator McCain advocates got us nowhere for the last eight years. Our saber-rattling only empowered hard-liners and put reformers on the defensive. An Iranian president who advocated a “dialogue among civilizations” and societal reforms [Mohammad Khatami] was replaced by one who denied the Holocaust and routinely called for the destruction of Israel.

Meanwhile, Iran’s influence in the Middle East expanded and it made considerable progress on its nuclear program.

The last thing we should do is give Mr. Ahmadinejad an opportunity to evoke the 1953 American-sponsored coup, which ousted Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and returned Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power. Doing so would only allow him to cast himself as a modern-day Mossadegh, standing up for principle against a Western puppet.”

The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP)
October 26, 2016

Walter Isaacson: [Adding to Kerry’s criticism of the narrow way the U.S. framed the civil war in Vietnam] And it blinded us to the split between China and the Soviet Union at the time. Do you see in Iran that this may have caused an opening? And do you think you might go to Iran either before you leave as Secretary or sometime early next year?

Sec. Kerry: Well, I have not considered any trip yet to Iran. But Iran is a really interesting study in all of this, because Iran is a 5,000-year-old country, civilization — obviously, not a country as Iran but a civilization. And ever since 1979 and the revolution, which, by the way came about because we were not perhaps as thoughtful as we might have been in who we were backing and what kind of practices were being carried out and so forth, and we had been involved as — the CIA was directly involved in the removal of a Prime Minister — Mossadegh, 1953. And so there was a history there. And in 1979, when they took over our embassy and took them hostages, that had a profound effect on our own politics — one of the principal reasons that President Carter lost to Ronald Reagan.

[Added October 30, 2016]


Related links:

President Barack Obama on Iran Deal, Difficult US-Iran History (VIDEO)

The Vietnam War | IRAN | What Lessons Did America Learn? by Arash Norouzi

When Black Lives Matter, Iran Loses Propaganda Points

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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