The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 19

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
NOVEMBER 2014
19
It’s the people with whomyou work that are going
tomatter the most. Taking care of your people as
you rise in seniority is extremely important.
sians are understandably deeply proud of their history and their
culture. It’s important to understand what Russia as a society
has been through in recent generations, going back to the Soviet
period during which the population endured the famine, the
purges and the Second World War.
And then there are all of the changes that have taken place
since the end of the Soviet Union and the very difficult transi-
tion—promising, but very difficult—that unfolded during the
period when I first served in Moscow in the mid-1990s. Whatever
the difficulties in our relations—and, certainly, today we have
profound difficulties with the current Russian leadership—it is
important to develop a sense of respect for that history, and what
Russians as a people have not only endured but also achieved.
One of the things I enjoyed the most in the two tours my
family and I spent in Russia was traveling around the country.
It’s a huge place. The last time I served there, there were 11 time
zones. Just the expanse of it is really striking. And it’s fun too. It’s
trite to say, but just as you can’t understand the United States
if you just sit in Washington or New York, you can’t understand
Russia if you’re spending all your time in Moscow and St. Peters-
burg. So it’s important and it’s fun to get out.
RJS:
What would you say is the Peoria of Russia? What is your
favorite heartland place?
WJB:
Well, there are lots of different places to point to, like
Siberia with its vast expanse. And there are fascinating cities in
the Urals, like Yekaterinburg. I’ve always enjoyed the Russian Far
East, as well as the far north, which is a tough place to live, and
not an easy place to visit sometimes. But again, it’s a reminder of
the sheer expanse of that society. None of that necessarily makes
political relations any easier.
And Russia, as my colleagues who are there now know, can
be a very tough place to serve sometimes. But it can also be a
very rewarding place, especially if you keep a sense of perspec-
tive and you understand not only the sweep of Russian history,
but the continuing significance of Russia and U.S.-Russian rela-
tions.
RJS:
Well, let’s take out your crystal ball again. How do you
see, realistically, our relations with Iran evolving? What would
you predict, say, five, 10, even 20 years from now? How will they
look?
WJB:
My powers of prediction, as I often demonstrate, are
pretty limited.
We’ve made a start in the nuclear negotiations, building on
the formerly secret bilateral talks, and working closely with our
partners in the P5+1 [United States, Russia, China, Britain and
France, plus Germany]. I would be the last to underestimate
the difficulties that lie ahead in the negotiations. There are still
significant gaps, and we’re going to keep working hard at it.
I think it’s still possible to reach an agreement that could
help open up wider opportunities in the relationship, especially
between our two societies. In many ways, the last 35 years of
estrangement and of truly profound differences between the
Iranian leadership and the United States have been unnatural, in
the sense that you have had such a disconnect between our two
societies during that time.
And especially for the younger generation of Iranians, I think
there’s a thirst for connection with the rest of the world. That
doesn’t make Iranians any less proud, any less committed to
what they see to be their national goals. But I would hope that
over time some of that estrangement can ease.
On the nuclear issue, I think it would be very much in the
interest of Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement to demon-
strate the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and
to demonstrate its commitment to living up to its international
obligations. That can open up very substantial economic oppor-
tunities. I’m convinced there are lots of Iranians who could take
full advantage of that, because it’s a very entrepreneurial society
full of talented human beings.
RJS:
So you’re not volunteering to open an embassy in Tehran,
or overseeing that anytime soon?
WJB:
There are a lot of obstacles that lie ahead, but I do think
you have to keep focused on what’s possible down the road.
RJS:
What diplomatic lessons would you draw from our expe-
rience as a country with 9/11? Particularly our experience in the
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