US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Ali Akbar Salehi PhD ’77, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, did not cross paths when they were at MIT in the 1970s. But nearly 40 years later their shared MIT connection is making headlines in global politics.
Moniz, a MIT professor emeritus with expertise in theoretical nuclear physics and energy technology, and the former director of the MIT Energy Initiative, served as Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief negotiator in the high-stakes nuclear weapons talks this past winter between the US and Iran. Chosen by Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to help work out an agreement with the US, Salehi is the former Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has extensive experience in university administration and international diplomacy.
“Of course two MIT alums got the ball rolling to the Iran nuclear deal,” Public Radio International reported in a recent feature on both the relationship and the outcome. (Notwithstanding his four decades at MIT, Moniz in fact, is not an alum— he has a degree in physics from Boston College and a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford University—but the point remains.) “Moniz says the two went right into an MIT mode of problem solving. ‘We were able to march through quite a few issues and to do so with a lot of specificity that I think will position the next 90 days of talks quite well.'”
The New York Times caught up with Moniz in March, during a break in the negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, reporting the two have a good rapport and are now on a first-name basis.