During a fiery speech in March to rally members of the US Congress against nuclear talks with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to remind Congress members of the record of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Jawad Zarif.
“Two years ago, they urged us to give President Rouhani and his foreign minister Jawad Zarif a chance to make changes and support the moderate camp in Iran,” said Netanyahu.
“However, Foreign Minister Zarif, whom Western diplomats like so much, visited the grave of Lebanese terrorist Emad Mogniya who killed more Americans than any other terrorist except for Osama bin Laden. So, I hope someone asks him about this act.”
Netanyahu realised Zarif’s exceptional abilities early on, and of course Israel becomes most agitated with an enemy who understands the US and West well, and can interact with his Western counterparts in their style of argument and logic. Zarif is also very knowledgeable of the American lifestyle, but remains entirely loyal to the radical Islamic regime in Tehran.
Zarif responded to Netanyahu’s accusations by saying: “The world must not allow the fanatic leader of Israel to undermine peace. Israel is trying to block peace through panic, fraud and propaganda and create a false atmosphere even in other countries.”
Despite this attack by Israel, the popularity of Zarif and Kerry shot up after Iran and the 5+1 group signed a nuclear deal last month, which makes it most likely they will be nominated and win the Nobel Peace Prize next year. After the deal was signed, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted: “I think the work of the Nobel Committee this year just got much easier”.
Zarif was born in Tehran in 1960 and is considered a product of the Islamic regime, and is an advocate of public diplomacy. He is a diplomat, intellectual, and professional academic lecturer who has written many serious books and research papers on foreign policy and international law.
Zarif has a PhD in international law from Denver University, Colorado, and an MA in foreign relations from San Francisco University. Because of the years Zarif spent in the US, he was targeted by hardline conservatives and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad removed him from government work in 2007.
Although he returned after the election of Rouhani in 2013, hardliners in Iran do not like his style of “smile diplomacy” which they say results in too much compromise with the Americans.
Nonetheless, Zarif stood in the Iranian parliament, with a conservative majority, to strongly defend the deal. He told them that marathon negotiations proved to everyone that Iran will not make any exceptions or compromises, or move its red lines under any pressure whatsoever. It is likely the Iranian parliament will ratify the agreement because they have strong faith in their negotiators and because the Supreme Guide of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, blessed the deal.
Kerry succeeded Hilary Clinton as secretary of state, and before that he was a prominent Democratic senator from Massachusetts and a former contender for the White House who lost to George Bush in 2004.
Kerry understood the desire of his current boss and former colleague in the Senate Barack Obama for a new start with Iran, based on a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and lifts sanctions on Tehran.
Because of Kerry’s long service in Vietnam, the Republican majority in Congress opposing the deal do not doubt Kerry’s credibility or his military history. In response to the Israeli campaign against the deal and Netanyahu’s speech in Congress, Kerry said: “Critics of the nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran don’t know what they’re talking about.”
During 21 months of marathon negotiations, Kerry and Zarif proved that both are very determined and focused on the final goal. Despite a freeze of diplomatic relations for 35 years between Tehran and Washington, and deep fundamental disagreement on many other issues, they were able to overcome mutual distrust and recurring problems until they reached a final agreement.
In order for Zarif and Kerry to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, it is not necessary for the deal to contribute to stability in the region or for Iran to change its policies and play a positive role in the region.
The world does not link Iran’s nuclear issue with other problems and crises in the Middle East – but nothing is absolute. Iran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq and Yemen – and the possibility of further deterioration there – could undermine Zarif’s chances at a Nobel prize.
The Nobel committee may also hesitate to grant it to Kerry because he supported the war in Iraq and is close to Obama, who was hastily awarded the prize in 2009 during his first days in office. Obama’s award was viewed as a bad and unjustified decision by the committee.
Pope Francis is another possible contender for the prize and may be more deserving for his efforts to reconcile the Colombian government and the armed Marxist opposition. However, a country abandoning producing nuclear weapons – although it has the capabilities – has a special value that supersedes working on maintaining world peace.
The writer is a researcher on Egyptian politics.