As the United States weighs a change of approach toward the Iranian government after thirty years of confrontation, Middle East expert John Limbert steps up with a pragmatic yet positive assessment of how to engage Iran.     

For Immediate Release
Date: September 1, 2009

Washington, D.C.—As the United States weighs a change of approach toward the Iranian government after thirty years of confrontation, Middle East expert John Limbert steps up with a pragmatic yet positive assessment of how to engage Iran. In Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, September 2009), John Limbert provides clear reasons for the U.S. to renew dialogue with Iran and outlines fourteen principles to guide the American who finds himself in a negotiation—commercial, political, or other—with an Iranian counterpart. 

Limbert challenges both Americans and Iranians to end decades of mutually hostile mythmaking and stresses the importance of a mutual cultural and historical understanding. “In exchanges between the two countries, mythology, distortion, grievance, and stereotype have become accepted wisdom, replacing both reason and reality,” says Limbert.  “Addressing long-held suspicions and misconceptions on both sides of the negotiating table is imperative to avoiding shortsighted decision making and missed opportunities.”

Drawing lessons from four cases, Limbert advises, “American negotiators who in the future are going to deal with Iranian counterparts should consider carefully the successes and failures of their predecessors. The persistent deep and mutual mistrust that has existed between the two countries since 1979 has meant that negotiators, their judgment too often clouded by real or imagined grievances, have ignored the fundamentals of their craft, and have failed to find objective criteria, calculate BATNAs (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), and, most important, separate the person from the problem.”

A former Iranian hostage himself, John Limbert writes from a personal and professional viewpoint, combining a deep appreciation and knowledge of Iranian culture and history, first-hand diplomatic experience, and an understanding of what it means to negotiate for the lives of Americans. This unique perspective of U.S.-Iranian relations makes this book an invaluable resource for those faced with redefining U.S. foreign policy toward Iran.

About the Cross-Cultural Negotiation Series

This book is the eighth in a series of volumes published by the United States Institute of Peace about the negotiating styles of different countries. Previous volumes in the Cross-Cultural Negotiation series have explored Chinese, Russian, North Korean, Japanese, French, German, and Israeli and Palestinian negotiating behavior. These books reflect the Institute’s conviction that negotiating approaches to international conflict resolution, as well as less adversarial diplomatic or business encounters, will achieve greater success when negotiators from different nations and cultures better “read” the intentions of their counterparts over a green baize table.  In 2010 the Institute will publish the next series volume entitled American Negotiating Behavior by Ambassador Richard H. Solomon and Nigel Quinney. Future country studies are in the works, including one on Pakistan.

About the Author

A career Foreign Service officer since 1973, John W. Limbert has held numerous positions including deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department and ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. In April 2003, while serving as ambassador, he was one of the first American civilian officials to enter Baghdad, where he was responsible for cultural affairs, including restoring the looted Iraqi Museum. Ambassador Limbert holds the Department of State’s highest award—the Distinguished Service Award—and the Award for Valor, which he received after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran. He is a distinguished professor of international affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy.

About the United States Institute of Peace

The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase peacebuilding capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide. The Institute does this by empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe. Negotiating with Iran is the latest work in its growing body of literature on international conflict resolution.

Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History

September 2009

United States Institute of Peace Press

200 pp. • 6 x 9

$14.95 (paper) • ISBN: 978-1-601270-43-6

$40.00 (cloth) • ISBN: 978-1-601270-44-3

Contact Information

Meaghan E. Pierannunzi
Publications Office
United States Institute of Peace
1200 17th Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
P: 202-429-4736
F: 202-429-6063

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