MISSOULA â The way John Limbert sees it, Barack Obama caught Iran âwrong-footedâ when he took office in 2009.
The president called for negotiations. He talked about mutual respect between the two proud countries.
âHeâs quoting Persian poetry to them, heâs praising their great culture,â Limbert said Thursday. âAnd they didnât know how to respond. It took them about three years to do anything.â
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 heâs 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 Departmentâs point man in Iran before resuming his position as the endowed chair of Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval Academy.Â
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 Limbertâs 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 Trumpâs administration, for better or worse, thatâs changing.
Trump promised on the campaign trail to tear up the 2015 âIran Dealâ that dismantled Iranâs 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 Limbertâs presentation in Missoula, Trump maintained again that Iran has not lived up to âthe spirit of the agreementâ 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 âalarming and ongoing provocationsâ to destabilize Middle East countries and undermine U.S. interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
âI think what youâre seeing in this, at least on the surface, is a reversion to what went on for 35 years,â Limbert said in an interview with the Missoulian. âWe bash them, they bash us. We call them a rogue state, we call them the worldâs No. 1 sponsor of terrorism. They call us the Great Satan.
âNow weâre comfortable again. People like having what they…