Diplomacy with Iran: Who Would We Be Talking To Anyway?

Much to the dismay of Iranian-Americans and everyday Iranians in Iran, a steady smoke has been rising from the heat of US-Iran relations over the past few months. For the time being, it remains to be seen whether this smoke is rising from the embers of war, or as smoke signals of diplomacy. As the global community awaits news with bated breath, it is worth asking: who would we be talking to anyway? In this regard, it is worth examining the profiles of Iran’s most senior foreign diplomats: Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and UN Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi. 

Foreign Minister Zarif is by now well known to Americans attune to US-Iran trade relations. He was the primary JCPOA negotiator on behalf of Iran, and is a career diplomat and academic. He previously served from 2002 to 2007 as Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, and has served as Iran’s foreign minister since 2013. Recently, he has been making rounds on a number of major media outlets to expound the virtues of diplomacy while holding fast to Iran’s rights to self-defense and autonomy, including two widely observed interviews with Margaret Brennan of CBS’s “Face the Nation” on April 25 and with Charles Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” on April 28.

Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi is no stranger to the JCPOA, and also served as one of Iran’s top negotiators. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs to President Rouhani, and served as Iran’s Ambassador to Switzerland from 2002 to 2006. Last month, and after a five month vacancy, President Rouhani appointed him in his new role as Iran’s Ambassador to the UN. The position is considered Iran’s most important foreign diplomatic posting, and makes Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi the highest-ranking Iranian official in the United States.

Both of these Iranian diplomats share the hallmarks expected of top international diplomats – such as foreign language skills, legitimate standing within their governments, and relative international astuteness. But these characteristics are not what makes them interesting for purposes of dialogue with the United States. Rather, both men share robust educational backgrounds from the United States. This aspect of their characters significantly changes – and strengthens – the orientation of diplomatic dialogue with the U.S.

At age 17, Javad Zarif left Iran for the United States, where he attended Drew College Preparatory School, a private high school located in San Francisco. He then attended San Francisco State University, graduating with a B.A. in 1981 and M.A. in 1982, both in international relations. Zarif then continued his studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where he graduated with a second M.A. in international relations in 1984 and a Ph.D. in international law and policy in 1988. Takht-Ravanchi has a similarly extensive Western education. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering. He then received a M.A. in International Political Economy from Fordham University in New York. Outside of the U.S., he received a Ph.D. from the University of Bern in Political Science.

Education matters because language matters. The Obama Administration learned that the otherwise innocuous political science phrase “carrots and sticks” would undergo a “cultural” translation in Farsi that amounted to calling Iranians donkeys, animals which are in colloquial Farsi associated with a lack of intelligence. More and more Americans today are coming to understand that the Persian expression “marg bar” (literally, “death to”) is one of frustration more so than an indication of murderous intent. (The author of this article admittedly barks “marg bars” with some frequency to Miss Siri of the iPhone). Farsi is after all, a colorful language – where the equivalent of “shutup” literally translates to wishing someone the “poison of a snake”.

Familiarity matters because small talk matters. Where tensions are high, diplomatic strides often come in the smallest of packages. Careful observers of US-Iran trade relations may have drawn parallels between Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi’s years of experience in Kansas, and that of Mike Pompeo, who moved to Kansas in 1998 and represented Kansas’s fourth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. If the smoke signals clear the way for dialogue, it stands to reason that U.S. diplomatic endeavors would fall on linguistically and culturally capable ears.

by USIRCC Staff

Iranian-American Civic Leadership: Parisa Dehghani-Tafti Runs for Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth Attorney of Virginia

On June 11, the Commonwealth of Virginia will hold its primary elections, which will offer Democrats in Arlington and Falls Church a choice for a nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney, the chief prosecutor for those two jurisdictions.

This year, the two-term incumbent, Theo Stamos, is challenged by a political newcomer, Iranian-American Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. Dehghani-Tafti built her legal career on criminal justice reform, and currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

Among her campaign issues, she is calling for reform to the Arlington-Falls Church prosecutor’s office, and draws attention to issues of equity and transparency. If elected, Dehghani-Tafti has pledged to increase transparency and accountability, focus on serious crimes, eliminate cash bail, and expand diversion programs. Her focus on transparency and evidence-based and equitable practices in law enforcement have caught the attention of many legal groups in Virginia, and she has the endorsements of Former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Marcus Simon, Delegate for Virginia’s 53rd District, and Former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, among many others.

The Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce is pleased to recognize Dehghani-Tafti’s campaign, which serves as a great example of how Iranian-Americans can serve meaningful, important roles as civic leaders in the United States. Her official campaign website is https://parisaforjustice.com/.

by USIRCC Staff

Trade & Tariffs: Investigations of Dried Tart Cherries from Turkey

Iranian-Americans and connoisseurs of Persian cuisine are amply familiar with dried sour (tart) cherries. A staple of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine, most Iranian-Americans and Iranians are unaware of the larger international trade story behind the dried fruit that is featured in so many dishes, jams, syrups and candies. Much like the storied history of the rivalry between California and Iran regarding pistachios, this new trade investigation pits Michigan against Turkey, no pun intended.

In the United States, an investigation into whether a foreign product is being sold at less than its fair value, or benefits from an unfair subsidy, begins with the U.S. domestic industry that produces a similar product to the imported one. The majority of U.S. domestic producers of the like product file petitions with both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission (ITC). The Commerce Department investigates whether the foreign product is being sold at less than fair value and calculates a percentage to “correct” for the underpricing (countries that grant their companies significant subsidies, or have lax labor laws, are just two examples of how companies are able to “afford” such underpricing). The ITC investigates whether the U.S. domestic industry has been injured by the foreign imports. Only if both the Commerce Department and the ITC make positive determinations of undervalued pricing and injury will a trade remedy, or tariff as they are colloquially known, be put in place.

On April 23, 2019, U.S. domestic producers of dried tart cherries, who are mostly based in Michigan, petitioned the Commerce Department to investigate imports of dried tart cherries from Turkey. U.S. producers are arguing that the Turkish cherries are being imported into and sold in the United States for less than what it costs to produce them. In fact, the U.S. producers in Michigan are arguing that imports of dried sour cherries from Turkey are undervalued by more than 628%! As a result, U.S. producers of cherries are unable to compete with these unfairly low sales prices. Within 45 days of the petition filing, the ITC determines whether there is injury to the U.S. domestic industry. If it does so, the investigation proceeds to the Commerce Department, which will calculate preliminary corrective percentages, or margins, intended to “correct” the price of the imported goods at the border. The ITC’s preliminary injury determination is due June 7, 2019. Depending on whether there are any postponements on the side of the Commerce Department, preliminary tariffs are expected to go into place between late June to October. Over the coming months, keep an eye out for changes in pricing – if you have enjoyed a regular source of dried sour cherries and did not know they were Turkish imports, you likely can expect a price increase later this year.

by USIRCC Staff