The ‘Obama Doctrine’ at Foggy Bottom

Foreign affairs ministries usually have a classic nickname, such as the Yellow House in Caracas, the San Carlos Palace in Bogotá, or Itamaraty in Brazil. In Latin America, there is more talk of the White House than “Foggy Bottom” – the area in western Washington where the main headquarters of the U.S. [Department of State] is located – which is used as the nickname for the Department of State.

This week, the White House and the U.S. Department of State managed to transform perhaps the two biggest controversial cases of the country’s diplomatic affairs: relations with Cuba and the Iran nuclear issue. Let us take a look at both issues.

Since the cease in relations between Cuba and the United States in 1961, relations between these two countries have been a complex and irritating issue for diplomacy in the region. Yet, in the extensive press coverage of the reopening of the embassies in Washington and Havana, there has been little mention of the fact that since the administration of Jimmy Carter, both countries had offices of interest, a euphemism so as not to give political and diplomatic character to the functioning of those embassies in the countries. In each office, there was a head of office, with the rank of ambassador, who had all of the immunities and privileges of an ambassador. The only differences were that they could not attend official state meetings and that their movements within the countries required prior authorization from the central government. The rest of the relations were more or less fluid, and both countries respected those obligations enthusiastically. However, the symbolism of the resumption of relations is a fundamental step toward normalizing relations between both countries, as well as on the entire continent, which found a myriad of other, perhaps much more complex, problems resulting from the cease in relations.

The other one that has transformed its relationship with the United States is Iran, although diplomatic relations between these two countries have been broken since 1979. Unlike relations with Cuba, there is no interest section. In both cases, the Swiss and Pakistani Embassies have interest sections within their own diplomatic legations, the first for the United States and the last for Iran. However, even if all of the tension between these countries continues, resolving the main issue of concern for the United States and the West – the nuclear program – has been a great diplomatic success. President Obama made it very clear that this was the fruit of the negotiation of diplomacy.

In both processes, many common elements were used, which some have referred to as the “Obama Doctrine” on negotiation: patience and firmness in his positions, putting aside ideological positions, moving to pragmatism based on professional diplomacy – not presidential diplomacy – that had been the common denominator of several decades of U.S. foreign policy.

These two agreements have ensured that this week the world has lived in a little more peace – but only a little. Two significant players causing global tension have changed their positions in favor of cooperation and international supervision. Using Iran or Cuba as a way of getting at the United States will no longer be so easy. In turn, this will have an impact on our home and our neighborhood.

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