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Greece, Iran And The Imperfect Art Of International Poker

Greece, confronted by its creditors, and Iran, facing a showdown over the nuclear dossier, may have less to lose from the failure to reach an agreement than their counterparts.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nov. 2014.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nov. 2014.
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS — Greece and the euro, Iran and nuclear power. In substance, these two negotiations have nothing to do with each other. But in form, the utter uncertainty of their results share the very essence of what is at the heart of international negotiation.

Greece is a double ally to the West, both in the European Union and in NATO. If its continued presence in the euro cannot be secured, does that not de facto weaken the two organizations it has been part of for decades?

Iran, on the other hand, is an opponent-partner. Clearly, its regime does not share our values, even though Tehran seems more and more like an indispensable ally facing the double threat of Middle East chaos and ISIS terror.

Thus the two ongoing negotiations would seem to have opposing objectives. How do we keep Greece in the eurozone, how do we keep Iran out of the very exclusive club of nations equipped with atomic weapons? The Greek question has an ever more present geopolitical dimension: would a failure not push Athens into Moscow's arms? The Iranian question, even though it's strategic before anything else, has an economic dimension. The lifting of sanctions would allow Tehran to breathe.

Any international negotiation, whether it takes place between allies or between enemies, follows a joint logic. There's a moment where the negotiation creates its own dynamic and slips from the hands of its protagonists, when it turns into a question of finding the "fair compromise" to create a new balance point.

In these two standoffs, are the negotiators, Greek or Iranian, not mainly looking to gain time in order to create a balance of power that would be more favorable for them? Are they not knowingly playing with the divisions that exist between the other parties of the negotiation — divisions that they know about and manipulate with a certain talent — all the while, working hard to balance the divisions that exist within their own camp?

For Athens, the forces united behind Angela Merkel are mostly driven by the fear of failed negotiations. Is Greece not, in the minds of the many European leaders the basic equivalent of what Lehman Brothers was yesterday? The German Chancellor doesn't want to go down in history as the political equivalent of Henry Paulson, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who didn't measure the superior cost of an "abandonment" compared to that of a "rescue."

Merkel slowly came to this conclusion regarding Greece. All the parties are now paying the price for this uncertain waltz, alternating excessive austerity on one side and refusal to face up to reality on the other.

Vacuum fears

Concerning the nuclear negotiation, the Iranians started from the — maybe too simple — idea that the U.S. needs to reach an agreement even more than they do. Doesn't Barack Obama eventually want to turn Iran into a regional security pillar of the Middle East? Nature abhors a vacuum. In the face of brutal implosions, particularly within the Sunni world, and in the face of America's refusal to directly return on the ground, we need to find an alternative!

Of course, this evolution of the American way of thinking, if it corresponds at least partly to reality, disconcerts both the State of Israel and the Sunni Gulf monarchies.

From Athens to Tehran, or more precisely from Brussels to Vienna, where the two negotiation tables are located, one can de facto find all the elements of the so-called "Strategy of Conflict" masterfully described, in his time, by the American Nobel Prize in Economics Thomas Schelling: "I may be weaker on paper, but you fear failure more than I do."

In fact, what should we really hope for with these two negotiations? Should we say, as some do, that "no agreement is better than a bad agreement"? Or should we, on the contrary, support the idea that a flawed agreement is potentially less damaging than failure, which would leave the door open to all kinds of excesses?

To justify his rapprochement with China in the midst of the Cold War, Charles de Gaulle insisted on the fact that, behind Mao's communist regime, there was Eternal China. Can we say, in the same way, that in Iran — beyond the Republic of mullahs — there is Eternal Persia, a great civilization, poorly represented by the regime in place? Is delaying Iran's nuclear ambitions by almost ten years — the stated ambition of the negotiation — making the bet that, on the political level, many things can happen in this relatively long period of time? We cannot let an absolutist regime acquire an absolute weapon, they rightly said yesterday. And what if the regime became less absolute? There's a civil society in Iran that dreams of normality, even more so considering the dreadfulness of the regional environment. Would the progressive lifting of the sanctions — not on any condition — not reinforce the standing of this progressive part of society? There's still a long way to go, of course, but an agreement is probably along that path.

Concerning Greece, the issue is different. It's indeed the fear of entering an unknown world, more than the hope for a better future, that pushes us, at any cost, to seek an agreement, which, even flawed, is most likely preferable to blatant and total failure.

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food / travel

When Racism Poisons Italy's Culinary Scene

This is the case of chef Mareme Cisse, a black woman, who was called a slur after a couple found out that she was the one who would be preparing their meal.

Photo of Mareme Cisse cooking

Mareme Cisse in the kitchen of Ginger People&Food

Caterina Suffici


TURIN — Guess who's not coming to dinner. It seems like a scene from the American Deep South during the decades of segregation. But this happened in Italy, in this summer of 2023.

Two Italians, in their sixties, got up from the restaurant table and left (without saying goodbye, as the owner points out), when they declared that they didn't want to eat in a restaurant where the chef was what they called: an 'n-word.'

Racists, poor things. And ignorant, in the sense of not knowing basic facts. They don't realize that we are all made of mixtures, come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And that food, of course, are blends of different ingredients and recipes.

The restaurant is called Ginger People&Food, and these visitors from out of town probably didn't understand that either.

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