The Road Back to Tehran: Undoing the Last Sixty Years

Ambassador John Limbert.


To view the video of Limbert’s presentation, click here.


How do we find our way back to Tehran over a road strewn with the wreckage of the last 35-years of disastrous American-Iranian relations? How do we build something better? We can neither undo nor forget the past. But if we are going to clear the road of its ugly obstacles—hostages, dead airline passengers, victims of terrorism—we have to both admit they exist and then stop making them a reason for not clearing the road. Perhaps the first step is empathy, which will require Americans to remember more and Iranians to remember less.

 Limbert, John

John Limbert is Class of 1955 Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he teaches courses in history and political science. During a 34-year career in the United States Foreign Service he served mostly in the Middle East and Islamic Africa, including at posts in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He was president of the American Foreign Service Association (2003-05) and ambassador to Mauritania (2000-03). In 2009-2010, while on leave from the Naval Academy, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary, responsible for Iranian affairs, in the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs. A native of Washington, D.C., Limbert earned his BA, MA and PhD from Harvard University, the last degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. Before joining the Foreign Service he taught in Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kurdestan (1964-66) and as an instructor at Shiraz University (1969-72). He has written numerous articles and books on Middle Eastern subjects including Iran at War with History, Shiraz in the Age of Hafez, and Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History. John Limbert holds the Department of State’s highest award – the Distinguished Service Award – and the department’s Award for Valor, which he received in 1981 after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran. His foreign languages are Persian, Arabic, and French. He is married to the former Parvaneh Tabibzadeh, and they have two children and four grandchildren