The personal touch: Zarif, Kerry and 10 US sailors

Cool-headed diplomacy, personal contacts, ad hominem relations prevent potentially dangerous incidents.

A U.S. Navy riverine gun-boat patrols during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) at the Middle East Gulf [REUTERS]
A US Navy riverine gun-boat patrols during an International Mine Countermeasures Exercise [REUTERS]

According to reports, Iran has detained 10 US sailors after two small patrol boats “drifted into Iranian waters in the Gulf, US officials say”. 

These reports further add: “The Riverine boats apparently developed mechanical problems and were taken to Iran’s Farsi Island … The sailors were ‘snooping’ in Iranian waters, Iran’s Fars news agency says. It says the sailors – nine men and a woman – were held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”  

This is one of those classical incidents that could immediately escalate into a dangerous standoff with dire consequences. 

The only difference is that this time, the same reports indicate that John Kerry, the US secretary of state,  has personally called Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and discussed the incident.

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Point of contact

This is one of the chief byproducts of the Iran Nuclear Deal concluded last July: A personal point of contact between US and Iran through Kerry and Zarif that can prevent potentially catastrophic consequences of a mishap. 

 The veracity the two opposing explanations – a “mechanical failure” or “snooping” – matters when such direct lines of communications are open. 

Within hours of the incident being reported and the Kerry-Zarif contact, Tehran announced that the crew and the boats “will be returned promptly”, according to Peter Cook, a Pentagon spokesman speaking to the Associated Press news agency.

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“After the incident,” according to these reports, “US Secretary of State John Kerry immediately called Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to begin negotiations”. An unnamed official told the Associated Press that Kerry “personally engaged with Zarif on this issue to try to get to this outcome. Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif developed a personal relationship throughout three years of negotiating a nuclear deal”.

A personal point of contact between US and Iran through Kerry and Zarif that can prevent potentially catastrophic consequences of a mishap.


During this election year, in both the US and Iran, the Obama and the Rouhani administrations are under tremendous pressures by the vested interests of warmongers on their respective sides to dismantle the Nuclear Deal by any means possible. 

Cool-headed diplomacy

Trigger-happy politicians – both in the US and in Iran – could very easily escalate such incidents to dangerous levels especially when the regional powers have become incessantly divisive against their own best interests. 

Cool-headed diplomacy, personal contacts, ad hominem relations – today evident between Kerry and Zarif – are the key factors preventing potentially dangerous incidents.

The only question is if such personal relationships can develop between two historic adversaries on two sides of the globe, why the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers – two Muslim brothers living from an earshot of each other – could not do the same? 

“How often a Hindu and a Turk could speak the same language,” the majestic Rumi says in a poem, and then adds, “and how often two Turks estranged from each other!”

The calm, beautiful, and rich piece of water in which this US boats incident has happened is the common habitat of Arabs, Iranians, Indians, Africans and many other nations from across the world. The environmental catastrophe that threatens this region is far more serious than the political hubris of power mongers on both sides of the Gulf can fathom.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif [Reuters]
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif [Reuters]

“Oil heartlands of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Iran’s coast,” according to recent studies, “will experience higher temperatures and humidity than ever before on Earth if the world fails to cut carbon emissions.” 

By the end of this century, according to these reports, this entire region may no longer be habitable.

It is around that frightful fact that all the Gulf countries must gather their power and prudence to prevent a catastrophe far more serious than the fate of 10 US sailors who would hopefully soon return safely to their friends and families.    

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.