I met Mr. Zarif some years ago, when he was Iran’s representative to the United Nations, though I am sure he would not remember me. He gave a presentation with a former and well-respected American diplomat, whose name now escapes me, about the difficulties of building trust between two nations that have distrusted each other for as long as Iran and the US. I was invited to the conference because of my work translating classical Persian poetry. What impressed me the most about Mr. Zarif’s talk was its honesty, and I am not talking about the kind of “honesty” that diplomats are able to effect when they need to. There was little to no dissimulation in his talk, and listening to and watching him in dialogue with his American co-presentor made obvious, to me at least, that he meant what he said.
None of which is to say that this video is anything other than the PR move that it is, though I think it is a smart one. There is, true, little substance here—unless you know something about Iran’s history and therefore get his references to the Iranian people’s history of standing up to tyranny (and I do not mean the Islamic Revolution, though that is arguably part of the same history)—but the change in rhetoric and posture is meaningful. And that is something worth noting.