A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today's Kerry-Zarif Meeting Could Be Far More Important Than Any Photo-Op Handshake

The expected meeting today between US Secretary of State John Kery and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is the first such meeting in several years and the first in a much longer period with any chance (however remote) of making any substantive progress. No one can know what its real chances may be at this time. Both sides suspect (and have historical reasons to suspect) the other's motive, sincerity, and intentions. Both sides, if perceived as conceding too much, would face a political firestorm at home, in the Iranian case, one rooted in the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

But what is abundantly clear is that there are opportunities at least hinted at, that we have not seen in many years. And that if a breakthrough is going to take place it will be through the Kerry-Zarif meeting (perhaps the first of a new round of negotiations?) and not through some imagined summit between the two countries' Presidents,

The huge amount of media hype on Tuesday, when Presidents Obama and Rouhani were at the UN at the same time, over whether the two men would meet, or at least shake hands, or occupy the same room together, led to a disappointment, But high-profile handshakes, however great as photo-ops, do not resolve conflicts of longstanding, ridden with suspicion and recrimination. Neither side trusts the other, and each has its reasons. Diplomatic process will depend on confidence-building, tenacity, determination, and minds that are cautiously open but not gullible. And the ability of each to reach a deal they can sell domestically is far from certain. But this will matter far more than an Obama-Rouhani handshake could have.

Interestingly, Zarif has been posting his travel diary to his Facebook page, and the US Institute for Peace is translating the entries into English. That part, at least, is something new and different.

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