Alumni Diplomacy

An interesting coda to the U. Mass. ban on Iranian students in engineering and the natural sciences that was later overturned

On Friday’s All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviewed US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a former nuclear physicist at MIT, about the nuclear arms negotiations/deal with Iran. This exchange occurred:

BLOCK: There is a really interesting confluence here because when you were starting teaching at MIT, the Iranian, now Iran’s top nuclear physicist, was then a graduate student at MIT. Do you think that had a bearing on the talks, the fact that you shared that history? I know you brought him some MIT swag when you went to Switzerland.

MONIZ: (Laughter) That’s right. Well, because in the – in our second meeting, he had a wonderful event – his first grandchild was born, a granddaughter. And so I was able to get an MIT logoed beaver (laughter) for her crib. So no, I think that really helped in terms of a personal relationship because it really helped us to get into, I think, a very good relationship for discussing these trade-offs.



  1. Critical Reading (@CriticalReading) April 5, 2015 at 9:01 pm | #

    “Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has more cabinet members with Ph.D. degrees from U.S. universities than Barack Obama does. In fact, Iran has more holders of American Ph.D.s in its presidential cabinet than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, or Spain—combined.”

    • David J. Littleboy April 6, 2015 at 8:29 pm | #

      Another FWIW. Japan had a Stanford PhD as prime minister* recently. It didn’t work out well: the Democratic Party of Japan, after a short run in power, is now back in the single-digit popularity class*. (I was not impressed with Hatoyama, but the disaster was not completely his fault: the other DJP leadership of the period (Kan, Ozawa, and Noda) were all problematic as well.) As you’ve probably noticed, the LDP is back in power doing its usual thing of pushing the country to the right as fast as it possibly can.



  2. David J. Littleboy April 5, 2015 at 9:03 pm | #

    FWIW (and as I’ve mentioned before), there were quite a few Iranian students studying nuclear engineering at MIT in the mid 1970s. Kissinger, Cheney, and their good buddy, the Shah, organized a program for Iranians to study at MIT. One article I found that mentioned it implied that Iran paid their tuition and that part of its purpose was to get some oil money back. But I doubt that they got much oil money back that way: tuition at MIT around then was around US$3000. (I forget if that was per semester or year, though.)

    From a neocon perspective, one could argue that this was one of the stupidest ideas in history. Of course, fighting a war in Iraq that turned Iraq into a pro-Iranian Sharia-law Islamic theocracy (and created ISIS) was arguably stupider. But then, US soldiers fought and died alongside Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war. Another stupidity.

    Personally, I think Iran would make a fine strategic global partner for the US. Our interests (other than regards Israel) are closely aligned: both of us dislike al-Qaida and ISIS, both of us don’t like it that Afghanistan produces humongous amounts of opium, and no one’s enthused about the Taliban. Iran would make a nice balance to Saudi oil power, and could control shipping out of the Gulf.

    • LFC April 6, 2015 at 2:16 pm | #

      US soldiers fought and died alongside Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war.

      If you have a cite for this, I’d be interested. Never heard this claim before. (It’s well known that the U.S. supported Iraq in the war, while also clandestinely selling Iran some weapons via the Iran-Contra affair. But U.S. soldiers fighting alongside Iraqi soldiers is not something I’d heard.)

      • LFC April 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm | #

        Further to D. Littleboy:
        How do you propose that the U.S. break its long-standing strategic ties w Saudi Arabia, which wd be a prerequisite to what you’re suggesting re U.S./Iran? Have the U.S. ambassador show up at the King’s residence one morning w a note saying “sorry, we’re not partners anymore”?

      • David J. Littleboy April 6, 2015 at 4:52 pm | #

        For starters:

        Not a lot of casualties (two), though. More if you include the Americans the Iraqis killed accidentally.

        As far as our long-standing strategic ties with Saudia Arabia are concerned, just because you’ve been doing things that don’t make sense for decades, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing those things. If Iran makes more sense as a strategic partner, not switching counts as “doing stupid things”.

        • LFC April 6, 2015 at 10:56 pm | #

          Yes, but it’s not easy to end (de facto) alliances that are of long standing. More substantively, I’m not sure Iran makes sense as a ‘strategic partner’ for the U.S., though I would favor a thawing in relations. Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Assad (and the rebels in Yemen) doesn’t match U.S. interests. I don’t think Iranian and U.S. interests are as closely aligned as you suggest.

          • David J. Littleboy April 7, 2015 at 9:11 pm | #

            I disagree with you on Assad and Yemen, and suspect you are wrong on Hezbollah as well.

            First, who are the US’s real main problems in the middle east? The Taliban, al Qaida, and ISIS. Period. Full stop. Any analysis that ignores that is problematic. And Iran is pretty much the only party in the Middle East that is strongly opposed to all three.

            Iraq had no al Qaida or ISIS under Hussein, simply because the non-Kurdish Iraqi Sunni were happy on Hussein’s gravy train. Iraq’s Shia majority were horrifically suppressed and cut off from said wealth, and it’s real nice they have control of their country. But it was obvious from the start that kicking the non-Kurdish Iraqi Sunni off said gravy train was going to be a disaster.

            Sure, Assad’s a horrible dictator. But the opposition is ISIS. (And remember what happened to Libya.) Yemen’s Shia minority got fed up with being left out of power, and it’s a mess. But, again, the US problem in Yemen is al Qaida, not the internal factional fight. Saudi Arabia is perfectly happy with al Qaida in Yemen, Turkey is perfectly happy with ISIS trashing the Kurds.

            As far as Hezbollah is concerned, I’ve not been following that. But this article implies that Hezbollah is no ISIS.


  3. Mushin April 6, 2015 at 11:06 am | #

    Once again it’s interesting how people’s P2P social interactive relations trumps political theater of fundamentalist indoctrinated belief systems. Inspiring clip of human reality within an insane debate. Makes me want to purchase a “MIT BEAVER” for my grand daughter!

    Maybe Jay Forrester “Club of Rome” MIT notion of “One World Systemic Meta Literacy” is beginning to payoff in human sensibilities between a Professor and student relationship respecting human dignity of shared human concerns? Children!

    Jorgen Rander’s “2052: The World in 40 Years” is a forecast of quantifiable political economics unsustainable overshoot in dysfunctional western democracies based in short-terminism. Short-terminism is the inability in crises to see beyond a 5 year horizon in risk management strategies and mapping commitments in political reality of solutions. The central problem in short-terminism is the unintended consequences of denying change for immediate gratifications in political rhetoric that creates an horrific calamity based in the carbon global economy. Anyone denying global warming as a scientific fact is denying the global electrification running on 120Volts 60Watts powering up civilization. The DOD Off-Sets is referred to in this thread and are a customary manner of negotiations when purchasing U.S. DOD arms that requires and exchange of commercial benefit being fed back to purchasing Nation Sates. So, it’s interesting how the exchange conversation with The Shah of Iran has completed an entire revolutionary production cycle and ends up in conversation between a Professor and student? Just amazing!

    If crises is the mother of invention then we have a moment of truth in our humanity with creative collapsing opportunity to unleash a creative generative human economy requiring full employment in designing a new manner of living in a third wave renaissance caring for future generations.

    I appreciated the subtle humor P2P and how it is all about caring for children, and not just your own children, caring for all children as if they were my (your) (our) own will do the trick in breaking the patriarchy of one size fits all.

    Your the only blog I am tracking, keep up the good press!

    “2052: The World in 40 Years” Jorgen Randers (Dennis Meadows, Lester Brown)

    • Glenn April 6, 2015 at 10:34 pm | #

      Speaking of short term, Ugo Bardi, in his book “Extracted” (a report to the Club of Rome) and the BBC’s Business Daily both recognize the coming phosphorus shortage and its consequences for agriculture.

      Phosphorus is extracted based on market prices that have no means of factoring in the price of future food shortages.

      And “60 Watts” should be “60 Hz” for future reference.

  4. LFC April 8, 2015 at 6:26 pm | #

    @D Littleboy

    Yemen seems to be v. complicated and, from what I’ve heard, in large part a matter of the conflict between the former pres. (who wants to be back in power and therefore is in an alliance of convenience w the Houthi rebels) and the current (though now apparently deposed) president. Saudi Arabia et al are supporting the recently deposed president. This puts S.A., I guess, in a temp. alliance of convenience w Al-Qaeda, which opposes the Houthis. But to infer from that that S.A. “is perfectly happy w Al Qaeda in Yemen” is I think a mistake; it’s just that S.A. is more opposed to the Houthis, not that it’s “perfectly happy” w AQ in Yemen.

    The S.A. monarchy has always seen AQ as a threat to its interests; they kicked bin Laden out of S.A. and, when OBL was living in Sudan, sent someone to Khartoum to confiscate his Saudi passport. (OBL, according to the account by L. Wright in The Looming Tower, threw the passport in the envoy’s face.)

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