Kerry Sees Iran Accord as Catalyst for Mideast

Kerry Sees Iran Accord as Catalyst for Mideast  Kerry Sees Iran Accord as Catalyst for Mideast

With his marathon negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program, US Secretary of State John Kerry has inched tantalizingly close not just to a single historic deal but to what he views as the linchpin for possible future diplomatic breakthroughs across the Middle East, particularly in combating the so-called Islamic State militant group.

“I think that there’s an opportunity here to galvanize people, hopefully, into a common-sense approach,” he said in a recent interview with the Boston Globe. “Who knows whether or not the Iranian agreement, if it were achievable, could open some doors into that?”

Kerry’s words are further evidence of the habitually optimistic outlook that helps drive his determination to negotiate throughout the weekend with the Iranians, even after over two weeks of talks with no deal.

It has been, in other words, a show of vintage Kerry: a belief that more hard work and more negotiation can bridge profound divides between mortal enemies.

Kerry has now spent more consecutive days negotiating abroad on one issue than any of his predecessors since Henry Kissinger spent 28 days seeking Middle East peace in 1974, according to State Department historians.

The possibility that an Iran deal could spawn further progress in the region excites Kerry. Creating stronger resolve in regional powers to fight the Islamic State would be at the top of the list of possible benefits, he said, and the countries meeting here could work to do more.

“That’s what I want to put to the test,” he said. “It’s clear to me that if an agreement is successfully reached, satisfactory to everybody, a conversation might be able to begin.”

“I don’t want to make any predictions,” he added. “I’m not going to tell you it’s a sure bet. But I do think there’s a conversation in the waiting. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so concentrated on trying to get this done.”

  Legacy-Building Accomplishment

If he successfully engineers a pact with the Iranians, it would represent just the sort of sweeping, legacy-building accomplishment that has eluded Kerry throughout most of his career, while giving the Obama administration a victory on a world stage that has proved almost uniformly inhospitable to US diplomatic efforts.

Kerry has been stymied in multiple trouble spots, especially in Ukraine, Syria, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In personal terms, Kerry is seeking an accomplishment that is bigger than winning his former US Senate seat or rising to his Cabinet-level job.

Aides and former negotiating partners describe him as an eternal optimist, playing the role of cheerleader during negotiating setbacks and constantly reminding them to be hopeful. Kerry has an enormous faith in his own ability to negotiate and cut big deals, using his personality, charm, and patience.

If the Iranian deal falls apart, there are few other major foreign policy challenges on the horizon that Kerry could turn to with much hope of success.

In the interview with the Globe in Boston last month, as he recuperated from a broken leg and prepared to return to the Iran talks, Kerry said he had begun sketching out new approaches on addressing the conflict in Syria and the Islamic State.

He said while the negotiations with Iran have been tightly focused on its nuclear program, “we’ve had some conversations about the region, obviously.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also talked recently about the potential for continued cooperation, particularly on fighting the Islamic State.

“Entire countries are being torn to shreds by roving bands of hooded men with no regard for the sanctity of human life,” Zarif wrote on Thursday in the Financial Times. “To deal with this alarming challenge, new approaches are an imperative.”