Iran

The sudden news of the passing of my dear friend and colleague, Dr. David Caron, fills me with sad thoughts and happy memories.

Years ago, when I was starting out in international law, David – then a chaired professor at Berkeley, the law school an hour’s drive from my own – was a pillar of support. He was the 1st scholar to accept my invitation to speak at the 1st conference I organized, anchoring debate on “Reconstruction after Iraq” and publishing in our Cal-Davis journal an important analysis of claims commissions as a transitional justice tool.

Warm and witty, David once sent me a handwritten note of thanks for the “lovely bouquet” of pre-tenure reprints he’d received from me.

Both of us transplants from Back East, David and I shared an enthusiasm for California and enjoyed helping to cultivate a close-knit Left Coast international law community – even as we took part in events and activities across the globe.

David’s achievements truly are too numerous to mention. Among many other things, he was an inspiring President of the American Society of International Law, from 2010 to 2012. About the time he completed that term, he took emeritus status at Berkeley, and he and his wife, Susan Spencer, embarked on new adventures – 1st as Law Dean at King’s College London.  (A distinguished international arbitration specialist (see GAR obituary here), he had practiced at London’s 20 Essex Street Chambers since 2009. David, a proud graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, also was a noted expert on the law of the sea.) In 2016, he was appointed a member of  the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.

It was in this last capacity that I last saw David. The Global Governance Summer School sponsored by my current institution, the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law, brought us to The Hague not many months ago. The highlight of our legal-institution briefings was the half-day we spent as David’s guests in the lovely mansion that houses this 37-year-old claims tribunal. With breaks for tea and biscuits – David was ever the gracious host – our students were treated to a candid discussion between David and Dr. Hossein Piran, Senior Legal Adviser. The two had served as tribunal law clerks years earlier, and the respect they showed one another provided an invaluable lesson about the promise of civil discourse and of the pacific settlement of international disputes.

That lesson is a most fitting way to commemorate David’s passing.

Pictured above, during our June 2017 visit to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, front from left: Ana Morales Ramos, Legal Adviser; Hossein Piran, Senior Legal Adviser; Kathleen A. Doty, Director of Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center; David Caron, Tribunal Member; and Georgia Law Professor Diane Marie Amann, Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center. Back row, students Nicholas Duffey, Lyddy O’Brien, Brian Griffin, Wade Herring, Jennifer Cotton, Evans Horsley, Casey Callaghan, Kristopher Kolb, Nils Okeson, James Cox, and Ezra Thompson.

sotu2014Despite the best efforts of pundits and D.C. PR, the State of the Union address this year seemed, well, small.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t watch the speech this year – 1st time in a long time. Just wasn’t up for TV anchors’ “this is Washington’s Oscars” spin as the government’s still-mostly-men file in. (credit for video screengrab) Nor for the up-close-and-personal vignettes that pepper SOTU no less than they soon will Sochi.

As for the text of the speech itself – except for the well-deserved celebration of an end to certain health care injustices – it paled in the gloss of my high-def tablet screen.

President Barack Obama put impressive force into his demand for higher wages for Americans at the bottom of the income rung, to a reverse in the trend of growing economic inequality, to a guarantee of a good job. Impressive, that is, absent the deflating reality revealed on one’s calculator. Obama’s centerpiece solution was a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. That would bring the annual income of a person who works full-time and gets paid vacation (both unlikely, at this wage scale) to a grand total of $21,008.00. (Note that this is higher than the current income floor.) Given the high cost of living in the United States, one could almost hear the low-wage earner mutter,

‘That and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card will get me a cup of coffee.’

As the President noted, the mutterer well may be a woman. He said:

‘Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.’

Well, yes, it is, and the focus on this issue was inspiring. Or would have been, if Obama’s stated solutions – “equal sbapay for equal work,” “a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent” – weren’t as old as the women’s movement itself. (image credit) Consider this web account:

Susan B. Anthony‘s paper The Revolution, first published in 1868, advocated an eight-hour day and equal pay for equal work.’

In his speech Obama sounded an alarm about “the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” as he has many times before. (Prior posts here, here, and here) His promise “to keep trying, with or without Congress,” served as a reminder of the difficulty of change.

“Diplomacy” was the SOTU foreign policy buzzword. That is welcome, but did not fully settle the mind given the tense nature of most of the situations mentioned – Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan. One was struck, too, by the geographic lumping-together of our globe. Joining Africa as an apparently single-country? “The Americas.”

Let’s hope the President’s assertions of optimism prove better founded than this take on yesterday’s address.

maamThe wee hours in Geneva today brought news of an agreement to regulate Iranian nuclear development, blocking nuclear weaponry and easing global sanctions. The agreement’s a victory for what, back in 2007, I dubbed the talking cure – a welcome turn of events after decades in which tensions escalated even as telephone lines remained silent. (It is just 8 weeks since the leaders of Iran and the United States talked for the 1st time in 34 years; just 5 days since the leaders of Iran and Britain talked for the 1st time in a decade.) The European Union-Iran statement on the agreement is here, text of Joint Plan of Action here, and a White House fact sheet is here.

The guy getting credit for all this is a woman. She’s Catherine Ashton, the coal miner’s daughter and onetime activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament who’s served since 2009 as the European Union’s 1st-ever High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Ashton’s early days in that post were rocky, but she persevered. She’s been in the trenches negotiating with Iran for years. The Guardian‘s Julian Borger reports that during this week’s diplomatic marathon at Geneva, while other delegates nicked out for pilaf or pizza, “Lady Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief steering the talks, often just made do with bar snacks.” And so today the media are painting Ashton as a hero – “from ‘zero’ to hero,” as the Telegraph of London rather snarkily put it.

Pivotal is the quality that an unnamed Brussels diplomat assigned to Ashton: “emotional intelligence.” There will be need for much of that as leaders work to win approval of the deal in their own states.  Most notably the United States, where some same-day reactions indicate more fondness for the hostile old status quo than for a chance to edge toward a calmer international future.

(credit for above photo of today’s Geneva announcement, depicting a chestnut-suited Ashton flanked by, from left, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius)

iran_flagusa_currentIt was 5 years and 1 administration ago that an American official sat down and talked with his Iranian counterpart. On May 28, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi met face to face for 4 hours. It marked the 1st formal session between Iran and the United States, as I wrote in a post entitled Trying the talking cure, “since 1979, the year that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led an Islamic revolution marked by the ouster of Iran’s Shah, invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and seizure of 52 Americans who were held hostage for more than a year.”

That meeting did not spark a resumption in direct negotiations. Nor has participation in 7-sided talks – Iran plus the P5+1 – done much to ease tensions. To the contrary, rhetoric on both sides has remained heated, and what the U.S. State Department itself calls “unprecedented sanctions” against Iran have been stepped up. Indeed, a striking aspect of this year’s award-winning film Argo is how little U.S.-Iran relations seem to have changed since Tehran 1979.

Yet news this weekend suggested a different direction.

On Saturday, At a security conference in Munich, Germany, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden indicated that direct talks could occur:

‘We have made it clear at the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership …. That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible ….’

Then yesterday Ali Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister of Iran, signaled approval:

‘Yes we are ready for negotiations’ … [if] … ‘the other side this time comes with authentic intentions … fair and real intentions ….’

Given the nuclear and other geopolitical stakes, these stirrings of another go at the talking cure are most welcome.