Talking to an Iranian Woman About American Politics

July 2015

“This Donald Trump,” the woman inquires over breakfast at Ellingsens Pensjonat. “Could he really become your president?”

I assure her it is unlikely*, but she persists. “He is leading in the opinion polls. How is that? He says the craziest things.”

I explain that the election is more than a year away. At this point during the 2012 presidential election, nearly every Republican candidate had led in the polls — aside from Jon Huntsman.

“Our elections are like a tournament,” I explain. “Eventually the weaker candidates fall off and people get behind the one or two who can win.”

These are the types of conversations I enjoy. This time it’s a little awkward, though.The woman is not convinced. Sitting across the table from each other in this sunny salon, we act out our own diplomacy. She is clearly well-read and informed about the U.S. She earned a doctorate in Syria. She is on her way to Iceland and then to Greenland to conduct meteorological research. But first, she is making plans to catch the ferry to Bygdøy to look at Viking ships.

These are the types of conversations I enjoy — meeting fellow travelers and learning about their home countries and travel experiences. This time it’s a little awkward, though. There is the elephant: Our countries don’t like each other. I’m not allowed to travel to Iran or transact business with her. And right now, Iran is the big topic back home, as the U.S. Senate begins to consider the recent nuclear agreement with her country.

“Your Republicans make fun of [Secretary of State] Kerry,” she says. “We joke about him, too, but he is very intelligent.”

The mood from her side of the table is more subdued than what they’re saying on CNN and Fox News. She’s hopeful. People in Iran want this deal very badly, she tells me.

“We want stability,” she says. “We don’t want to be like Iraq or Syria. There is no Syria now. You believe our leaders are dictators, but they are stable. We don’t worry the way they do in those countries. It is crazy there.”

I don’t know what to think of Iran’s intentions, or whether this is a good deal or not. But these are the conversations people from our countries should be having with each other if we’re ever going to have peace.


* Obviously, I got that wrong — but so did all the pundits.


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