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Secretary Tillerson, It’s Time to Phone Iran

When ten American sailors found themselves captives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf last year, then-Secretary John Kerry secured their freedom in less than sixteen hours. He used a remarkable instrument to score this stunning victory: A telephone.

Within hours of their capture, Kerry had his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on the line. They spoke five times that evening, but they already had a deal by the second call. The subsequent conversations served to handle logistical issues and resolve problems and misunderstandings that arose along the way.

For instance, at one point U.S. Navy ships and helicopters were approaching the Iranian island where the sailors were kept. “Please tell your navy not to get close,” Zarif told Kerry, his tone revealing the urgency of the matter. “We don’t want a military confrontation. But if your planes get close, we will have serious trouble.” Kerry immediately hung up and called General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to urge him to pull back. “We’re risking potential escalation here,” Kerry told the general. “They were giving us positive indications that they are gonna release these guys, so we should back off the helicopters for now and test if this is real.” Dunford complied, and a dangerous confrontation was avoided. To prove that the sailors were safe, Zarif emailed a picture of them from his Gmail account to Kerry’s State Department email.

It had taken two years of intense discussions and negotiations for Kerry and Zarif to build the rapport that enabled them to so quickly resolve unforeseen crises such as that of the U.S. sailors. But once the channel of communications and the rapport had been established, its utility and efficiency was unquestionable. Indeed, the sailors’ incident could have ended up as another prolonged hostage crisis. Instead, most Americans have not even heard of their mishap.

Today, there are many unforeseen crises that risk bringing the U.S. and Iran—indeed, the entire Middle East—into direct confrontation. The U.S. and Iran have a shared interest in defeating ISIS in Iraq, but after the fall of Mosul, the balance of their interest may lead them in a more confrontational direction. A similar dynamic is playing out in Syria, where the U.S. already has shot down Iranian drones and bombed Iranian-sponsored groups. Moreover, tensions in the Persian Gulf are rising as Saudi Arabia appears to have received a green light from the Trump administration to double down on confrontation and bullying.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had no illusions about the end goal of the Saudis. The Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American [1],” he told his French counterpart in 2010. Since then, the Saudi appetite for a U.S.-Iran war has only grown.  

Despite these hotspots, the Trump administration and Secretary Rex Tillerson have allowed the hotline with Tehran to go cold. Despite the significant risk of war, not a single phone call has taken place between Tillerson and Zarif. Not a single attempt at resolving the tensions diplomatically has been made.

When asked about diplomacy with Iran during his visit to the Saudi kingdom, Tillerson said that he had no plans to reach out to Iran [2], although he didn’t rule it out in the future.

That is simply not good enough. It is the foremost responsibility of the President and his administration to keep America safe and to only put American servicemen and women in harm’s way once all other options have been exhausted.

On both of these counts, the Trump administration doesn’t just fail, they fail abysmally because they haven’t even tried. The United States is about to sleepwalk into yet another devastating war in the Middle East without a debate as to whether such an escalation lies in the U.S.’s national interest, and without the Trump administration even giving lip service to diplomacy. Other potential foes in the world observe this behavior as they consider the payoff of peaceful engagement with the U.S. versus conflict. Do we want to send those actors the message that the U.S. shoots first and asks questions later?

The George W. Bush administration at least had the decency to lie to the American public when it sold the electorate the Iraq War. And however skewed and faulty, the Iraq War was preceded by a debate and a vote in Congress. Though President Bush eschewed diplomacy, he nevertheless presented a deeply flawed case as to why diplomacy no longer was an option. Trump and Tillerson simply don’t even bother.

The Trump administration’s recklessness is endangering America and putting American servicemen and women at risk. If Tillerson was supposed to be the adult in the room steering Trump in the right direction, he needs to start to act the part.

Before the escalation with Iran reaches a point of no return, diplomacy must be given a chance. That responsibility falls on Mr. Tillerson. The former Exxonmobil CEO has Zarif’s number. It’s time he places a call.

Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy [3]. He is the president of the National Iranian American Council. [4]

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Secretary Tillerson, It’s Time to Phone Iran"

#1 Comment By Anonymouse On July 14, 2017 @ 11:24 pm

The author of this article is an agent for the Islamic Iranian government. He brought a lawsuit against an Iranian opposition activist who’d disclosed his ties with the Iranian regime but then lost the case in court:

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“The ruling reaffirmed the district court’s initial opinion that NIAC and Parsi engaged in systematic abuse of discovery process and repeated false and misleading declarations to the court. The district court had ordered NIAC to pay $184000 for Dai’s legal expenses”

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#2 Comment By Bahs Azad On July 14, 2017 @ 11:51 pm

Well-thought article, thanks. Unfortunately, US approach was provoking Iran to the point that they would set aside the nuclear deal. But Iran so far acted logically and calmly, avoiding any confrontation (despite of hardliner’s pressure on reformist government of Iran).

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 15, 2017 @ 4:49 am

“The Trump administration’s recklessness is endangering America and putting American servicemen and women at risk. If Tillerson was supposed to be the adult in the room steering Trump in the right direction, he needs to start to act the part.”

The long embattled history here isn’t just about Iran’s and Saudi interests. Correct or not we remains in a state of some angst about the Embassy invasion on US soil. Furthermore, I think there are concerns over this Islamic Revolution in which the embassy got caught in.

Before we start, I have looked at the vialable reckoning of the Iranian coupe and the CIA had very little to with it. There was no US orchestrated coupe, it was an inside job.

The issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia are long and have very little to do with the US. I don’t see any cause for physical hostilities between the US and Iran. But I am unsure what it is you think Sec Tillerson ought to say. There’s a treaty in place as I recall.

It may even be that Sec Tillerson is on the phone with Iran as well as Saudi Arabia. I am sure we would prefer a peaceful settlement between the two states and others in the region. It may be that the US while desiring peaceful relations and willing to broker peace is also taking a step back and allowing the states in question to work it out And if the choice s war between those states, at lest it will e there own.

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Now I would be chagrined if it turned out that that our current executive was actually using Saudi Arabia as the pretext to enter a conflict that was none of our business to back door a war desired y interventionists, whose ambitions may be noble, but thus far have proven utter failures.

#4 Comment By TruthBeTold On July 15, 2017 @ 5:50 am

Secretary Tillerson is right.It’s Time to Phone Iran and apologize for all the sneaky, underhanded and completely un-American and undemocratic actions we took around the world all in the name of dollars. Agreed, it’s time for US to start apologizing to the rest of the planet.

#5 Comment By qowhrfo On July 15, 2017 @ 6:20 am

Shame on you Trita Parsi,

You are traitor that deal with the fascist regime of Islamic Republic and have no shame on these dictators. NIAC is terrorist organisation run by spies of the Iran’s islamic republic regime who do anything to oppress its people. As a Persian and Iranian in Iran, I am glad they kicked you out of white house, how come you condemn USA for not allowing the basiji militia into the USA. Do you know how much such a terrorist basiji murdered and beaten people in 2009 and afterwards, do you know how many people they have executed with their stupid sharia law? Do you know that so called basiji cuts people’s hands for stealing? Do you know that basiji shuts an ordinary person for speaking out by pulling a gun outside on the streets? How come you negitiate with a dictatorship government who only represents 10% of people and the 90% of people are against them. How come you work with Obama? Obama is the enemy of the people of Iran. He turned his back and not supported Iranians who were on the streets fighting against sharia law? Damn on you I will cut your throats myself, and damn on the sepah and basij that will not get away and it is time for this regime to pay back the freedom that it took from the people. NIAC is a traitor to both People of Iran and People of USA. Trita Parsi must be sent to jail. People in Iran want war to get rid of this regime as they have the guns.

#6 Comment By S G Logan On July 15, 2017 @ 8:00 am

The writer is an agent and mercenary of the foremost state sponsor of terrorism and a lobbyist for the terrorist regime as found by an American court which considered much documentation over a long period. Not only he lobbies for the regime he is actively involved in stopping the terrorist IRGC from being named for what it is, i.e. a terrorist groupuscule serving the tyrannical Khomeininst theocracy presently led by the terrorist Khamenei. Rather than allowing him to abuse and misuse the American freedom of expression to air his well-paid for pro-regime commentary, we ought to heed former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s statement asserting, “We must starve terrorists of the ‘oxygen of publicity,’” as well as deport him back to the terrorist regime.

#7 Comment By JN83 On July 15, 2017 @ 10:25 am

The only traitors commenting are these MEK supporters. You’re the worst out of the Mullah’s and the Shah supporters. You’re cultists that supported Arabs during the war with Iraq. MEK/MKO and NCRI will never step foot in Iran!

#8 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 15, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

Sorry, I’ll try again, with corrections:

The sad passing today (from breast cancer) of 40-year-old Iranian Maryam Mirzkhani, the first woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, brings to mind the many, many reasons why normalization of relations with Iran is in the US national interest.

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#9 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 15, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

This is a short video (2:50 from Wired Science) in which Maryam Mirzakhani talks about her life. It’s very good.

RIP, Maryam.

#10 Comment By Count Iblis On July 15, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

S G Logan:

“…we ought to heed former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s statement asserting, “We must starve terrorists of the ‘oxygen of publicity,’”

Thatcher’s vision on sorting out Northern Ireland was that the Republic of Ireland should have a say about the future of Northern Ireland. That led to an angry reaction by Paisley:

#11 Comment By Whine Merchant On July 15, 2017 @ 8:20 pm

Play the ball, not the man.
Whatever some commenters here think of the author’s affiliations – and whether they are accurate or not – the facts and logic here are what matters.

I know, I know – the MAGA cheerleaders go with what “feels truthy” and like their world in simple categories and their all actors to ear either a white or a black hat.

#12 Comment By Anonymouse On July 15, 2017 @ 11:16 pm

JN83 says:

“The only traitors commenting are these MEK supporters…”

You sound very confident in saying so!
How do you know which commenter supports who?!
Do you have any evidence to support claim? Or, is it just how you “feel”?

I bet the later is the case!

#13 Comment By Dave On July 16, 2017 @ 12:50 am

Parsi isn’t a traitor. A traitor has at least 2 loyalties and Parsi only has one.

#14 Comment By Winston On July 16, 2017 @ 2:10 am

Learned from article about the Iranian mathematician that Iran has a government run school for extremely talented girls. Which other Muslim country does this? Yes US should normalize relations with Iran.

#15 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 16, 2017 @ 8:35 am

“Agreed, it’s time for US to start apologizing to the rest of the planet.”

I take it we are going to be getting a refund for the trillions of dollars we spent I disaster aid. The US has done some very dark ill advised actions And there a few instances about we might need to make some amends. But some manner of generalized mia culpa is uncalled for in my view.

The amount of aide we provide the world in money materials and services exceed by light years the damage.

I would echo the loss of Maryam Mirzakhani should be acknowledged. Appreciate the video, the Atlantic’s didn’t play.

#16 Comment By S G Logan On July 16, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

You’re talking about different periods and different things. All terrorists – particularly mercenaries of the foremost state sponsor of terrorism – should be deprived of the “Oxygen of Publicity”.

#17 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 16, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

Winston made an interesting observation (2:10 a.m.):

“Learned from article about the Iranian mathematician that Iran has a government run school for extremely talented girls. Which other Muslim country does this? Yes US should normalize relations with Iran.”

In their book “Women in Mathematics” Andrea Lenzner and Detlef H. Rost say (p-115): “Data from interviews revealed that single-sex schools are quite common in many Muslim countries. Single-sex schools are especially common in the Gulf States, in which one finds the worldwide highest percentage of women in mathematics and computer science.”

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#18 Comment By Nicolas Martin On July 16, 2017 @ 8:05 pm

“I take it we are going to be getting a refund for the trillions of dollars we spent I (sic) disaster aid.”

That characterizes the US position well. It doesn’t give charity, it expects something in return.

#19 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 16, 2017 @ 8:47 pm

@S G Logan, about the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, are you talking about Saudi Arabia?

#20 Comment By Darioush Rahnama On July 17, 2017 @ 2:02 am

The article is wishful thinking, it misses the point that the Trump administration is not interested in what is in America’s interest. Trump and his crew are interested in their own personal gains which requires appeasing the saudis and the israeli lobby. Let’s not forget the picture of Trump bowing to the saudi king to receive that gold necklace (as have other presidents to be fair), and his trip to israel and his words about israel. Playing a dangerous hardball with Iran only satisfies the criminal saudis and the genocidal israelis, and Trump is fine with that as long as saudis pay him in gifts and the israelis control the US media in his favor.

#21 Comment By Steven On July 17, 2017 @ 7:48 am

If we take him at his word, Trita Parsi believes that it’s an accomplishment that sailors who accidentally sailed a few miles into a foreign country’s waters didn’t get caught up in a “hostage crisis.”

Most people would consider that the bare minimum of civilized behavior.

While I strongly favor rapprochement with Iran, I have to say that Parsi’s shilling is pathetic and beyond contempt.

#22 Comment By Steven On July 17, 2017 @ 9:09 am

Might I add that an Iranian refugee with a Norwegian passport telling Americans in an American conservative magazine that the administrations policies are “simply not good enough” comes across as extremely arrogant and unprofessional. As a foreigner has no business at all deciding which decisions by American elected officials are “good enough.” There are much more tactful words that make the same points; these can only be counterproductive.

Shame on Parsi and shame on the American Conservatives’ editors.

#23 Comment By Dan On July 17, 2017 @ 11:59 am

Trita Parsi must disclose his financial support and how he is getting paid!

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 17, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

“That characterizes the US position well. It doesn’t give charity, it expects something in return.’

Missing the point, the US does plenty of charitable work and do so even with our enemies. Admittedly we have made mistakes and admittedly I think there’s a case for redress. But the US dos not need to go about with a mea culpa sign on her back.

If so, then you apparent charity has been for naught and those so inclined should have rejected it. This is akin to taking money from a robber baron and then telling everyone how unworthy the robber baron is.

Second, the US is not Christ. She is a nation state acting on behalf of her citizens. That means what she gives might very well come with strings attached, such as, not wantonly kidnapping US citizens as they do in Mexico, not crossing the border illegally and then demanding services as many of our southern neighbors do.

No gift we give in diplomacy is given without some ROI. The US is not a church, it is funded for the express purpose of acting on behalf of the citizens of the US. And why I reject all claims that any political leader espouses about how he was moved to act. No.

He acts on behalf of his heart which belongs to the citizens of the US.

#25 Comment By Anonymouse On July 17, 2017 @ 10:33 pm

“The article is wishful thinking.. ”

Right conclusion but with false premise! Quite rightly, it is a wishful thinking but that’s only because it is the Islamic Republic of Iran who is NOT and HAS NEVER BEEN willing to deal with the outside world in a normal and respectful manner.

The Iranian regime is the only government in the world that stormed the US embassy and took its diplomats hostage for 444 days. It even did an exact similar thing with the embassies of the UK and Saudis in the recent years. And only God knows which country will be the next victim and when?

Storming foreign embassies on a regular basis is just one of the many evil acts of this regime. They have the habit of capturing the western soldiers and taking them hostage and then asking for ransom in order to release them. They do exactly the same even with the ordinary citiczens of the western countries.

The Islamic regime of Iran is also the only country in the world who has declared, officially, that they want to wipe the Israel off the map of the planet! and it is not only pure rhetoric but in reality they are actually doing it. Not only they fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and fully support them in their war against Israel but they have, in fact, attempted to assassinate the Israeli’s diplomats directly by themselves:

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Their agenda with Israel doesn’t end there. They have a hugely funded propaganda machine which constantly brainwashes the Iranian people with anti-Semitic material, in order to make sure the anti-Israel sentiment will be there even after their existence.

The story doesn’t end there.

The Iranian regime is the only government who supported the Syrian’s regime and helped keep Bashar al-Assad in power despite the will of the Syrian people. In fact, the Iranian officials have openly admitted that they were the only one who helped the Syrian government and prevented it falling and they are very proud of it. They portray the war against the Syrian people, as an act of fighting against terrorism and that is why they are so proud of it. However, that is a big lie: The Syrian movement started with people chanting for democracy in the most peaceful way; but sadly what they received after many months of peaceful demonstration was nothing other than an Iron fist from the brutal Syrian government and using help and advice from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Had the Syrian people succeeded in their quest to democracy, we would have seen a completely different middle east today. Sadly, the war between the Assad’s regime and the Syrian people became a prolonged one and gradually, it created a very comfortable atmosphere for non-democratic forces such as the various Islamic extremest groups including ISIS, which compounded the equation even further.

The Iranian government, thanks to the Obama’s appeasement policy, has accessed to the funds that it had long needed for implementing its expansionism policy in the region. They are now training Afghan and Iraqi forces in the middle-east in the form of various Shiite militia and para-militia groups who are going to be the Iranians’ proxies in Iraq and Syria for the many years to come.

Trita Parsi misses all these points.

And despite all the above, instead of the Iranian government he blames Saudis . Unfortunately, Trita Parsi misses the point that it was the Iranian government who tried to assassinate the Saudi’s ambassador to the US inside the US soil! and not the opposite:

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And let’s not even talk about the human rights record of this regime. Let’s not even mention that this is the only dictatorship in the world who systematically rapes and murders its political prisoners, boys and girls, who want nothing from this government other than freedom and democracy! Let’s not talk about the forced hijab and treatment of women. Let’s not talk talk about the people who are whipped in public for dancing, drinking or even not fasting in Ramadan!

These things doesn’t bother Trita Parsi.

For him, all that matters, is to recognize this brutal theocracy and accept this backward government as part of the modern world so that it can do whatever it want with no real consequences.

I am an Iranian. I am a hater of the Obama’s appeasement policy. Although, I am not advocating a war with Iran but I am also very much against any sort of friendly relations between this Islamic regime and the outside world.

To me, it is in the best interest of the American government and the American people, to support Iranian people in their fight against this dictatorship. Fighting against this brutal government is not easy but it will become less difficult if we know the Americans and other people in the civilized world have sympathy with us.

In 2009’s post-election demonstrations, we asked Obama whether he was on our side or “their” side. Unfortunately, Obama was on the wrong side. It took only almost one year for Iranians to learn that while they were expecting Obama to help them, he was actually busy doing some secret negotiations with the Iranian’s supreme leader, and was willing to give as much concessions to the Islamic Republic of Iran as needed in order to secure a “legacy”. Trita Parsi says Bush lied to American people but again he misses the point that Obama went out of his way and did whatever he could in order to make the Congress as powerless as possible with regards to this deal, and he of course succeeded in doing so.

Thanks to American people’s vice decision, the Obama has gone now. Let’s not continue his destructive policies towards Iranian people.

#26 Comment By Anonymouse On July 17, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

Sorry for a typo in the last line. I meant “wise decision” (and not vice)

#27 Comment By Mike On July 19, 2017 @ 11:49 pm

Looks like Israel is about to push America into another war, this time against Iran. Interesting how Trita also jumps on the PC bandwagon to direct blame solely on Saudi Arabia. Well at least we go to sleep feeling all warm and fuzzy with a new war on the horizon in conjunction with Israel pushing laws to criminalize free speech in America. [11]

#28 Comment By Ahmad B On December 12, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

Trita Parsi is a proven spy for the mullahs and was determined by the US Court (Judge Bates) as “unintelligent stooge of IRI”. Do a goodle search for the court findings. Most Iranians are aware of this. He lost the lawsuit to Hassan Dai and was ordered to pay him $200,000 in penalties for his attempt to silence him. NIAC is an unregistered foreign agent and hopefully Trump admin, unlike the stooge Obama will not fall for it.