By Max Karpefors & Eva Forslund
Who is Trita Parsi? Apart from being Uppsala University’s Alumni of the year 2016, that is. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an organization strengthening the Iranian-American community’s involvement in politics and civic society. Trita Parsi played a crucial part in securing the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015. In March, Parsi came to Uppsala to receive the alumni prize of the year. He also took time to meet with both university students and ninth graders from his former secondary school. When we met him we could not help but notice his passion for foreign politics. Nor was it possible to miss his frustration with the current lack of diplomacy in international affairs.
Where does this political dedication come from? It has always been present in Parsi’s life. His family fled to Sweden from Iran and his parents frequently discussed politics at the dinner table in the Uppsala suburb of Gottsunda. He studied international relations at Uppsala University and (to no one’s surprise!) he also served on the UF board. He then went on to receive a PhD from John Hopkins University, USA, and founded NIAC in 2002.
A few days before his visit to Uppsala, Parsi told Dagens Nyheter that he felt nervous about meeting the ninth graders in Gottsunda; he was not sure whether he would be able to relate to them. But once on stage, there were no signs of insecurity. “What do you think about Donald Trump?”, a girl on the front row asked. Trita Parsi replied quickly, with a smile on his face: “He is my idol.” This caught the teenagers’ attention. Parsi then revealed his real opinion on the matter: “The Trump administration is a complete disaster! One striking example is the way it reduces grants for the state department while increasing grants for the military, completely ignoring the importance of diplomacy.” The administration is also a disaster for Parsi’s own life project, the Iran deal, which Trump himself has tweeted is terrible.
Trita Parsi had already been invited to speak for UF six times before, but it was not until he became alumni of the year that he had to say yes. In a full auditorium, he started by stating that “It sounds like a cliché, but it feels like yesterday that I walked into the classroom where Political Science A was taught.” The university provided him with a good foundation to achieve his goals. He maintains that it is not enough to understand what drives international conflicts. If you want to be able to solve them, you also have to understand and hold the right values. According to Parsi, these diplomatic and democratic values are very much present at Uppsala University.
A large part of his talk was devoted to talking about how Iran-US relations have moved away from being purely hostile, largely due to the 2015 Iran deal. The US proposed enforcing fewer sanctions against Iran in exchange for a decrease in uranium enrichment. For the US, this was a novel diplomatic approach. Instead of attempting to solve the problem through the threat of military force, a deal was reached solely through diplomatic means. And NIAC and Trita Parsi worked hard to enable this development.
July 2015 already seems long ago, however. Barack Obama and John Kerry have since been replaced by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the political landscape is changing rapidly. “I would lie if I said we were not worried”, Parsi said, “We are tremendously worried. ”
One question remains with us after hearing Parsi speak: after having spent his whole adult life working towards a more diplomatic USA, how does he keep going under Donald Trump’s presidency? We recall something Parsi said earlier during his day in Uppsala: while the US is not exactly like House of Cards, it is not far from it. It is likely that this statement reflects more than political frustration. It also reflects a bitterness — his life’s work could potentially crumble to pieces.
But he also has hope for us UF members. When we asked what he would like to tell Uttryck readers, he told us that there are few people better suited to change the world than students at Uppsala University, and especially the members of UF. This reminds us about who Trita Parsi really is. At heart, he is an old UF member who made sure to practice what he preached.
By Max Karpefors & Eva Forslund
Banner Photo by Linda Koffmar