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Negotiators' Bonds, Commitment And Devotion To Details Got Iran Deal Done


One journalist who has had a front-row seat to those complicated negotiations is Robin Wright. She also made a series of visits to Tehran, and she's offered a behind-the-scenes view in The New Yorker. She joined us for more. Welcome to the program.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Great to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Was there a moment or a dynamic that said to you, effectively, this is going to happen?

WRIGHT: Well, I spent a lot of time with the Iranian negotiator, and I've known the American negotiators for decades as well. And what struck me was the fact that they bonded. They may not have become friends, but two years of this intense diplomacy - they got to know each other. And, for example, the Iranian nuclear specialist went to MIT, did his Ph.D. there, and, Ernie Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, taught at MIT in the same period. And so when the Iranian had his first grandchild, the American brought him MIT baby clothes - that there was a different dynamic that has evolved over those two years, that has done as much, I think, in forging an agreement at the end of the day as the terms themselves.

I think actually the diplomacy came together in part because of the two men who closed the deal. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, was educated in the United States. His children were born here and have American citizenship. And John Kerry's son-in-law is a doctor who is of Iranian descent, and he knows the culture and traditions. And both of them went into the jobs with the singular, number-one priority to get this nuclear deal.

MONTAGNE: Would that, though, be a negative that could be useful to critics?

WRIGHT: Well, Kerry and Zarif are going to come under a lot of criticism from the hard-liners in both countries. But remember, this is a pact that involves not just these two countries. What gives it particular legitimacy is the fact you have the five veto-wielding powers at the United Nations plus Germany. That's what gives it heft, and it will be encoded in a new U.N. resolution.

So it will be part of the international legal structure. And if there is violating or cheating, that will then give a legal basis for - whether it's snapback sanctions or the beginning of raising alarms for a military campaign.

This has been done in a very legalistic, technical, non-emotional way. The document, after all, is a hundred pages of excruciating detail. And one of the reasons it has taken so long is that they have literally argued over every word, every comma. There is kind of a joke among those who follow this that, you know, the Iranians wanted a comma, and the Americans wanted a semicolon. You know, they really got down to the nitty-gritty in every sentence. And that gives you a little bit of hope that they've tried to think through what the obstacles may be with the glitches.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, you wrote in The New Yorker that both American and Iranian negotiators were musing in Vienna, maybe comparing notes about which side would have the harder sell back home. Now that we're there, what do you think?

WRIGHT: Oh, I think President Obama has a real hard sell in front of him. There's this one or two-day euphoria over the accomplishment of diplomacy which is great in the sense of proliferation generally. Diplomacy has failed to prevent the last four members of the nuclear club - Pakistan, North Korea, India and Israel - from getting the bomb.

This is a success in a much broader geostrategic concept. It sends a very important message at a time the world wants fewer nuclear weapons. But this is also a campaign season, and it is very possible that the noise and the fact that the time Congress has to review it has doubled to 60 days may offer the opportunity for the opposition to put forth a real serious challenge.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Journalist Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker, and she's a scholar at the Wilson Center. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.