John Kerry's Meeting With Iran Minister Was a Game-Changer


People remember history based on a series of significant events. Take 1979 for example. For some of us, it can be hard to gauge what it was like then, or even how long ago that was. But if we say, the year Britain elected its first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, we'd understand more clearly, quickly. Amidst the ongoing Cold War, Mother Teresa received her Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. It was a year before the boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics and President Ronald Reagan's election. Noteworthy events continued to happen — the Cold War ended and the U.S. elected four more presidents after Reagan. Everything moved on, making 1979 history, except the U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations, which stagnated in 1979.

But that has changed. On Sept. 26, high-level officials from two countries had their first face-to-face talk (discounting Condoleezza Rice's brief encounter with Iran's then-Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in 2007) since Iran's 1979 Revolution. In a meeting to discuss Iran's nuclear program, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sat next to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as other members of the P5+1 joined them. In the meeting described as "substantial" and "constructive," the parties have decided to meet with senior negotiators in Geneva next month. Did the U.S. and Iran mark another significant event that will be remembered in history?

America's direct diplomacy with Iran, which the majority of Americans advocated for in 2009, is under way, but the two countries have yet to overcome the 34-year gap in their relationship, which is apparent in the leaders' approaches and viewpoints. While Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani supports a nuclear-free world, he said, "Iran must be able to assert its rights … under international law." He added, "We don't want Iran to be an exception. We do not want discrimination against Iran. We want Iran to be seen just like the rest of all other countries that have nuclear programs as well as enrichment programs."

In addition to dealing with Iran's nuclear issue, President Obama has other factors to consider as well. His recent diplomatic stance against Syria left 49% of Americans unhappy with his job on foreign policy, which is "the highest disapproval he has ever received." On top of rebuilding trust, he faces a great party divide regarding how he should be dealing with the situation. Regardless, the two leaders seem open to testing out "the diplomatic path." But it's too early to tell whether this will leave the mark in history.