World Denver is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to connecting Denver with the world by fostering timely discussions of world affairs. Last Monday night, together with the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, World Denver co-hosted a talk by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Dr. Jim Walsh of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Securities Studies Program at the Brown Palace fresh from their Denver Post commentary (1/12/14) “A Delicate Dance with Iran.” Their op-ed strongly admonished the U. S. Senate to back off on its threat to impose additional sanctions against Iran. The lecture topic was a recounting of the unfolding negotiations to ease sanctions in exchange for verifiable limitations in the Iranian nuclear program. Pickering, a career diplomat by way of Bowdoin College and Tufts University, is an 82-year-old powerhouse who exudes strength, competence and an appetite for contentious debate. Not only has Pickering served in key diplomatic posts for both Democratic and Republican Presidents, but also the State Department’s fellowship program was renamed in his honor following his formal retirement. Most recently he and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, conducted the internal review of the Benghazi fiasco. When America needs a truth teller, he has become the go to guy in the diplomatic community. (In the interests of disclosure my father worked with him at the State Department some 40 years ago and was a huge fan.)
Pickering seems to have his fingers in every foreign affairs initiative, council and research organization you can name. Most germane has been his chairmanship of The Iran Project, an informal and unofficial dialogue with key counterparts in the Iranian government. Started in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks, these discussions became a stand alone project under the auspices of the Foundation for a Civil Society in 2009. The content of these discussions has been regularly communicated to both the White House and Congress. Implicit is the key role the Iran Project has played in paving the way for the budding rapprochement regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is not only the former Iranian nuclear negotiator, but is also a graduate of Denver University’s International Law and Policy program where he received his doctorate in 1988. A key ally of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif is working on a short clock as Iranian hardliners attempt to torpedo the current talks and return the weapons program to a fast track enrichment protocol.