Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, key to deal with U.S., educated in Denver

DENVER — From Ayatollah Khomeni to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s various political leaders over the last 34 years have presented a rather closed bellicosity to the United States and most of the world.

But now, after 34 years of estrangement, Iran and the U.S. have agreed to a temporary agreement that could open the door to a new era of open diplomacy between the two countries and across the entire Middle East.

“This is a serious step in the right direction in terms of a triumph of diplomacy, in terms of reducing tensions in the region, in terms of possibly leading to a diplomatic relationship with Iran somewhere down the line,” said Nader Hashemi, an associate professor of Middle East and Islamic politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

“Both sides had deep incentives to resolve this issue diplomatically and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Hashemi, whose parents were born in Iran and emigrated to the United States, told FOX31 Denver that the thaw in U.S.-Iran relations is also exciting for faculty members inside Ben Cherington Hall, where Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, was educated.

“He is considered to be the most sophisticated, articulate foreign diplomat that Iran has,” Hashemi said of Zarif, who received his PhD from the Korbel School in 1998.

“He speaks excellent English, excellent knowledge of American politics and a really good reputation. He’s been put forward to negotiate what is Iran’s toughest deal since its revolution.”

After just 100 days on the job — Zarif was appointed by new President Hassan Rouhani — the 53-year-old diplomat is stunningly popular inside Iran, while working to normalize Iran’s strained relationship with the international community.

In September, he held a historic bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, breaking the 34-year taboo over direct talks between Tehran and Washington.

He has since met Kerry many times, continuing to help thaw the diplomatic impasse that’s kept the two nations apart since 1979.

On Sunday, before heading off to officially announce the deal with Kerry and other foreign diplomats, Zarif announced the news via Twitter — to nearly 90,000 followers.

“The excitement is increasing here because he’s playing a positive role in decreasing international tensions,” said Hashemi, who told FOX31 that the Korbel School is now reconsidering inviting Zarif to address students and faculty next year, either via a video chat or in person.

While many in Congress are nervous about the deal, unwilling to trust Iran after three decades of mutual mistrust, and Israel is calling for tougher measures, the deal appears likely to be given a chance to work, with evaluators set to verify that Iran is abiding by the agreement and dismantling enriched uranium and revisit the overall agreement in six months.

Although there’s a long way to go, Hashemi views this first breakthrough as a historic moment.

“If we get to a permanent comprehensive deal in six months, I think it’s not unrealistic to suggest that both Javad Zarif and John Kerry should be credited with solving one of the most intractable, difficult issues that’s been plaguing the international community for the last decade,” he said.

“It will be a historic breakthrough deserving of a prize, possibly the Nobel Peace Prize.”

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