Kerry Prepares to Accept Prize for Iran Nuclear Deal; Iran’s Zarif Has Other Priorities

Patrick Goodenough | October 28, 2016 | 4:16am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif led their respective teams in the nuclear talks in Switzerland. (AP Photo/Rick Wilking, Pool)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to London this weekend to accept an international relations award from one of the world’s leading think tanks, but his Iranian counterpart, jointly named to receive the award for their diplomacy on the Iran nuclear deal, is not planning to go due to a “tight schedule.”

That schedule, according to the Iranian foreign ministry, includes a visit to Moscow to coordinate positions on the Syrian conflict with Russia and the Assad regime.

Iran and Russia are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest allies, and both have military assets engaged in the fight to keep him in power as the costly and convoluted civil war continues. The U.S. and others believe war crimes are being committed as part of their campaign.

The three-way talks between Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his Russian and Syrian counterparts were being held on Friday, and his ministry said he would be returning the same day.

His schedule beyond that has not been announced, but spokesman Bahram Qassemi said earlier it was too “tight” for him to travel to London to receive the award at a ceremony early next week.

Kerry will be going, however, to the ceremony to receive the Chatham House Prize, the State Department confirmed on Thursday. The trip will take him to Ireland on Sunday, and then on Monday to London, where he will receive the prize, hold talks on Libya, and meet with London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Awarded by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), the prize is given to individuals or institutions deemed by the institute to have made the most significant contribution to improving international relations in the previous year.

This year it decided that Kerry and Zarif fit the bill, for their role in driving the negotiations that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It described the nuclear dispute  “one of the most intractable diplomatic standoffs in international affairs in the 21st century,” and the negotiated agreement as “one that many thought impossible.”

“Overcoming enormous technical complexity, entrenched domestic opposition in the United States and Iran and three decades of intense hostility between their two countries, Kerry and Zarif’s leadership and commitment, in particular, were imperative to sustaining and driving the negotiations to their successful conclusion,” Chatham House said.

The prize is usually presented by the institute’s patron, Queen Elizabeth, or senior royals on her behalf. Prevent recipients include Hillary Clinton (2013), Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (2011) and Ukraine’s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko (2005).


In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry was not seeking the award but was “grateful and thankful that he’s been selected for it.”

“I think he’d be the first to tell you that it was very much a team effort,” involving others in the U.S. government such as Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, as well as representatives of the other countries involved in the negotiations, Kirby said. (The P5+1 group comprised the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, and the European Union played a convening role.)

By contrast, Kirby’s Iranian counterpart, Qassemi said Zarif views the award as one belonging to the Iranian nation for its “resistance.”

“Dr. Zarif believes that the prize belongs to the great Iranian nation, who managed to overcome pressures and sanctions in recent years with their resistance and wisdom,” he said.

Kerry evidently developed a close working relationship with Zarif during the marathon negotiations in Europe. The two have met numerous times and talk frequently talk on the phone.

Kerry has characterized Zarif as leaning moderate in a difficult and turbulent political environment.

“There are people in Iran who want a different Iran, an Iran that reaches out to the world, an Iran that’s engaged with people, an Iran that can re-enter the global community with respect and with acceptance,” he said at a University of Chicago event on Wednesday, without naming Zarif.

“There are those who are the hardliners who fight that every step of the way,” Kerry added. “They fought the nuclear agreement that we arrived at …”

The administration maintains that the JCPOA has made the world safer by removing the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran from a volatile region, even as the U.S. continues to have serious differences with Iran over its regional policies, sponsorship of terror, human rights record and ballistic missile activity.

The White House has also accused mostly Republican critics of the deal of being “wildly misinformed” or “lying.”

Critics say an emboldened Iran, having benefited financially from the easing of sanctions entailed in the agreement, is behaving even more aggressively in the region.

They worry that the agreement, which allows Tehran to keep nuclear facilities and some infrastructure intact, will lead inevitably to a nuclear-capable Iran, pointing to JCPOA sunset clauses easing restrictions on the program after 10-15 years.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at last month’s first presidential debate called it “one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history.”

Earlier, Kerry and Zarif were rumored to be among nominees for the 2016 Nobel peace prize. It went to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end the long civil war in his country.

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