Hostage to Events
Foreign Policy / Barbara Slavin

John Limbert knows better than anyone not to have high expectations about U.S.-Iran relations.

One of 52 Americans held hostage by Iranians for 444 days in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Limbert came back from retirement nine months ago to head the State Department's Iran desk in hopes he could help end the bitter enmity between the U.S. and Iran.

Those hopes have been dashed as Iran rejected U.S. overtures and the Obama administration pivoted to a familiar pattern of economic sanctions.

On Friday, Limbert is stepping down from his position. In an interview Tuesday -- his first since rumors of his departure were confirmed earlier this month -- he said he had promised the U.S. Naval Academy, where he had been teaching history and political science, that he would return for the fall semester. But he acknowledged personal regret that U.S.- Iran relations have not made more progress.

"I have the sense right now that we -- the Obama administration writ large -- are not in the place we wanted to be," Limbert said. While he said the administration is determined to pursue efforts to negotiate with Iran, he fears that both countries risk regressing to the dysfunctional pattern that has kept them largely at odds for three decades.

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