I have covered many different stories since joining Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian language service, in 2008, but I’ve been following one particular story (or maybe it’s been following me) since I entered university back in Tehran.
Iran’s nuclear program is an extremely complex issue, and one that has occupied the international community for more than a decade. I have been following it on the ground in different cities for some time, and by doing so, I’ve come to know many veteran journalists and analysts from Iran and around the world, and have had the opportunity to closely observe the work done by diplomats, especially those from the U.S. and Iran. Below is a short look back at the 18 months I spent in the field reporting on the Iran nuclear talks.
As a journalist, you will probably get the chance to observe a historic event once, but I have had that opportunity twice since I began covering the nuclear talks. The first time was in Geneva on a cold November night in 2013 when Iran and the 5+1[the group of six world powers involved in the negotiations] struck an initial deal a few hours after midnight, a deal that would impose limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and allow diplomats to pave the way toward a comprehensive deal. Just recently, I was able to experience the same situation in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015, when all sides agreed on the parameters of the final deal.
Reporting on Iran’s nuclear program and more than a decade of negotiations over that program may seem very simple and repetitive--even easy or boring. Many people think the journalists who cover the talks travel to beautiful cities where talks take place in historic or luxury hotels, they report on the same issue, and then go home. But in fact, we journalists are dragged to a different city every month and have to be ready to join this process at a moment’s notice. We cover events where every word in our reporting makes a difference. A recent example was how I had to remind myself every second about the difference the words “deal,” “agreement,” or “understanding” can make.
Over the course of the last 18 months, I’ve been able to learn what it is like working in the same room with dozens of journalists, many of them from Iranian domestic media, and whose views at times clash with those of Radio Farda. Over this time, we have somehow become like a family. During the past few months, I have seen my colleagues in Prague much less than the colleagues with whom I cover the talks. We gather in a city, get to know each other better, and even feel responsible for one another when a crisis blows up. Like members of a family, we have diverging views, sometimes we argue, and at times we even get angry at each other.
The toughest times covering these talks are during the long nights. We experienced that in Geneva in 2013, in Vienna in 2014, and recently in Lausanne. These are the nights when talks continue until dawn and uncertainty grows. There were moments when journalists would encourage each other to rest a bit, and take turns to take a short nap.
During these past months I have seen how, at times, competition has given way to friendship. At the end of the Lausanne talks, when the big announcement was on the way, Swiss officials moved us from the Beau Rivage Palais to a press center at a technical university. In the bus which was transporting us all to the press center, I could hear a group of Iranian photojournalists whose colleague from a competing media outlet had been left behind. They promised each other to keep a place for him so that he too could capture the historic moment.
Also during these past months, the gathering of dozens, and at times hundreds, of journalists and media people created an example of the “dialogue among civilizations” touted by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. Many Western journalists who had never been to Iran learned a lot about the country and its very diverse society. Before leaving Lausanne on March 20, the eve of Norouz, the Iranian New Year, a few non-Iranian journalists wished me Happy New Year in Farsi. In another example, on the morning of the last day of the Norouz celebration (April 2), Lyce Doucet from the BBC World Service went around the press room offering us sweets and chocolates. And these small gestures can cheer you up and give you the strength to continue the marathon. Moreover, the Iranian journalists who came from Iran seized the chance to learn from veteran journalists in the field, as well as to learn about new cultures. Sometimes these encounters make one think, if the journalists were the ones negotiating, things could have been resolved much earlier.
We journalists were, like the negotiators, ensconced in these talks for weeks at a time. I was impressed by how dedicated everyone was to their work, though at times it came at a personal cost. There was a colleague who missed her daughter’s birthday, one who worried about his sick father he’d had to leave in Tehran, and one who kept reporting up until the last months of her pregnancy. Among those most dedicated was veteran AFP correspondent Michael Adler, who I had last seen in a wheelchair in front of the UN office in Vienna, and who passed away in September, 2014.
Although we have completed yet another marathon, we still have a long way ahead. For that reason, when leaving Lausanne we didn’t say goodbye. We just said, “Hope to see you soon.”