Signature Lecture: Iran and the West: A Dialogue of Ambassadors

Speakers: James Blight janet Lang Hossein Mousavian Thomas R. Pickering

Series: Speaker Series

April 13, 2012

Signature Lecture: Iran and the West: A Dialogue of Ambassadors

This weekend’s multilateral summit in Turkey to address Iran’s nuclear program has created a watershed moment. “Dare we be hopeful?” asked James Blight as he set the stage for the CIGI Signature Lecture Series panel discussion, “Iran and the West: A Dialogue of Ambassadors.”

The sold-out event in Waterloo featured former Iranian Ambassador Hossein Mousavian and former US Ambassador Thomas Pickering, as they discussed reasons behind stalled negotiations and areas of possible compromise and progress between Iran and the West. Blight, CIGI chair in foreign policy development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), moderated the panel with his colleague janet Lang, research professor at the BSIA.

The topic addressed has implications for regional and global security, as media reports have highlighted the West’s concern over Iranian nuclear aspirations. The speakers stressed the need for “prisoners of history” to step back from respective national biases, and, as Blight said, address the situation between Iran and the West with a new model.  The new model was the one of dialogue that viewers witnessed between ambassadors Pickering and Mousavian.

Ambassador Mousavian served as Iranian ambassador to Germany and is the former chief Iranian nuclear negotiator. He is currently a visiting research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. During the panel discussion, he said stressed that at the core of the problem between Iran and the West is a mix of miscalculations, misperceptions, misunderstandings and mistrust. He outlined the contentious history between Iran and the West, looking at the latter’s role in Iran’s 1953 coup d’etat and 1980s war with Iraq. In addition to highlighting the concessions and conciliatory offers Iran has tried to make, he commented on the ineffective “dual track” approach taken by the United States. Mousavian noted that, leading up to the weekend summit in Turkey, the Iranians will want to see a road map with an end-game of cooperation and understanding.   

Ambassador Pickering, who currently serves as vice chair of Hills & Company, was US ambassador to nine countries (including Russia, India, Israel and Jordan) and to the UN), and retired at the end of the Clinton administration as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Quoting Einstein — that it’s insane to do the same thing and expect different results — Pickering discussed the need for Iran and the West to stop repeating the same dance. There are ways forward, but the two parties Iran and the West need to find an issue that they can agree on, and that will lead to further agreements — confidence building measures. While he implied that there shouldn’t be over-optimism for a grand bargain, there needs to be some sign side of hope for these upcoming negotiations. 

Both ambassadors agreed that the time is right for Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States — and Germany) and the rest of the West to discuss how to bring Iran in from its international isolation.

Series: Speaker Series

From September to May each year, the CIGI Speaker Series are presented on important international topics to raise public awareness and understanding on a variety of current global issues. This series features some of the most prominent and acclaimed figures in their respective areas of global governance.

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