Former ambassador: For Trump administration, communications key in dealing with Iran | Political News

MISSOULA — The way John Limbert sees it, Barack Obama caught Iran “wrong-footed” when he took office in 2009.

The president called for negotiations. He talked about mutual respect between the two proud countries.

“He’s quoting Persian poetry to them, he’s praising their great culture,” Limbert said Thursday. “And they didn’t know how to respond. It took them about three years to do anything.”

Limbert is a veteran diplomat who worked in the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, when he and 51 other Americans were taken hostage during the Islamic Revolution.

For the second time in four months he’s traveled from his home in Virginia to Missoula, where he was keynote presenter Thursday night at the 15th annual International Conference on Central and Southwest Asia on the University of Montana campus.

Limbert spent most of the first year of the Obama administration as the State Department’s point man in Iran before resuming his position as the endowed chair of Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

His wife, Parvaneh, is a native Iranian who accompanied Limbert to Montana and recalls the phone negotiations in 2010 between then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Naval Academy admiral over Limbert’s pending return to academia.

U.S.-Iran relations were at a stalemate at the time and showed no signs of resolution, Limbert said. Under President Donald Trump’s administration, for better or worse, that’s changing.

Trump promised on the campaign trail to tear up the 2015 “Iran Deal” that dismantled Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for trade concessions from the United States and five other nations. Ninety-one days into his tenure he has yet to do that, though just hours before Limbert’s presentation in Missoula, Trump maintained again that Iran has not lived up to “the spirit of the agreement” during a joint press conference in Washington with the prime minister of Italy.

On Tuesday, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, waist-deep in explosive diplomatic issues ranging from North Korea to Afghanistan to Syria, added Iran to the list. He said Iran is in compliance with the treaty, but the United States is reviewing its policy toward Tehran. The next day Tillerson accused Iran of “alarming and ongoing provocations” to destabilize Middle East countries and undermine U.S. interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

“I think what you’re seeing in this, at least on the surface, is a reversion to what went on for 35 years,” Limbert said in an interview with the Missoulian. “We bash them, they bash us. We call them a rogue state, we call them the world’s No. 1 sponsor of terrorism. They call us the Great Satan.

“Now we’re comfortable again. People like having what they…

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