Diplomacy with Iran: Brought to you by the letters U.N.

Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with a remarkable woman and longtime supporter of Ploughshares Fund, Mrs. Joan Robertson. Next year she will turn 99 years old. In her lifetime, she has witnessed a great deal of conflict—two World Wars, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and now increasing turmoil in the Middle East.

Yet she remains hopeful. In part because she also witnessed the creation of the United Nations in 1945, an organization “committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.”

In addition to supporting Ploughshares Fund’s vision for peace and security in a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons, Joan is an ardent supporter of the United Nations Association of the USA, in particular their Model UN program that introduces the next generation of leaders to the world of diplomacy, negotiation and decision making.

“Since Sally Lilienthal introduced me to Ploughshares Fund back in the 1980’s, I’ve been impressed with Ploughshares’ vision, research and outreach in capping nuclear problems: weapons and proliferation, and the unthinkable use of a mega bomb…Since 1945, the United Nations, IAEA and Treaties of the UN have worked to control nuclear weapons and call for more education and support worldwide. Surely the strength of the two institutions make a powerful force,” says Joan.

In October, Joan invited Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione to be the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee’s special meeting to celebrate the 69th Anniversary of the UN. In a room of 200 people, Joan had personally invited more than 30 guests, most of whom were students and participants in the local Model UN program. The message they heard from Joe was clear: diplomacy is hard work, it takes time, and thanks to organizations like the UN it remains the preferred path to peace and cooperation.

Joe spoke in detail about the diplomatic opportunity with Iran and the current negotiations to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program. This moment has been a long time coming, involving years of track-two dialogue, behind-the-scenes efforts, objective analysis, and public education. But in some ways, Joe said, "this diplomatic moment was also made possible because of the United Nations."

Previous meetings of the United Nations General Assembly had offered opportunities for various officials on both sides to interact, on the sidelines of the main stage, keeping the lines of communication warm. And it was last year, at the 68th United Nations General Assembly that Hassan Rouhani made his first trip to the United States as President of Iran. On this trip, Rouhani and President Obama spoke to each other for the first time. In fact, this was the first time in over three decades that top officials in the US and Iran had directly spoken.

Was it the spirit of diplomacy and the relatively safe political space of the UN General Assembly that made these important contacts possible? The ground work had been laid for sure, but the United Nations provided the right opportunity, at the right time.

And here we find ourselves, one year later, on the precipice of a deal that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, increase transparency of their nuclear program, and open the door to possible cooperation on other regional threats. We are witnessing diplomacy in action.

We’ll know more of the final outcome of the negotiations when the deadline arrives on November 24. Rumor has it the deal is about 95% done. However that last 5% will be the hardest. And we aren’t giving up.

For Ploughshares Fund it’s in our mission—to invest in the smartest people with the best ideas to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. We believe diplomacy is our best shot at preventing a nuclear armed Iran.

For Joan it’s her life mission, it’s in the very fibers of her being. “Ploughshares Fund and the UN have a mutual vision which someday will be (and MUST be) a reality.”

We are lucky to have people like Joan on our side, committed to a better world, striving to create peace and security in a world rife with conflict. And we are fortunate that she is deeply committed to passing this mission on to the next generation.