From Trumbull to the White House
When Trumbull native Sahar Nowrouzzadeh says she has a meeting with some civil service people in the morning, the President of the United States may just have been sitting in on it.
Nowrouzzadeh, a graduate of Jane Ryan Elementary and Madison Middle schools, was a director for Iran on the White House National Security Council from 2014 to 2016, and her work was key to developing various international policies, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Nowrouzzadeh described working on the deal as the experience of a lifetime.
“There was a lot going and we still have major difference with Iran,” she said. “But to ultimately be able to secure JCPOA and achieve a major national security objective priority through dialogue, it was so rewarding to be part of something historic.”
In some circles the Iran deal drew criticism, but Nowrouzzadeh said she, other State Department staff and national security officials expected that the deal would be closely scrutinized.
“It was an extremely important topic throughout several administrations,” she said. “We expected a robust debate, but I think once folks got the facts, they realized this was important part of securing our national security interests and preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which would have a further destabilizing impact on the region.”
National security, and exhausting diplomatic means to avoid conflict, is also a personal goal for Nowrouzzadeh. Her brother is a U.S. Navy physician who has deployed to Iraq, among other locations.
Nowrouzzadeh departed the NSC in the summer of 2016 and is now serving as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff. She is a career civil servant who joined the U.S. government in 2005 at the Department of Defense before she transitioned to the State Department in 2012.
Despite being the daughter of Iranian immigrants, Nowrouzzadeh said, her interest in Middle East affairs developed after leaving Trumbull for college in Washington, D.C.
“My parents weren’t political,” she said. “My father came here in 1971 to do a residency as an OBGYN at Bridgeport Hospital.”
But when the 9/11 attacks happened during Nowrouzzadeh’s freshman year at George Washington University, she said, her interest in Middle Eastern affairs was piqued.
“I studied international affairs, learned Arabic and tried to further my Persian/Farsi skills on the side,” she said.
She also credited her background with helping her career.
“Of course, being exposed to culture and language helped add to my understanding of nuances of history and culture, among other topics,” she said. “Many of those from my generation try to use our skills to reduce tensions and bridge gaps in understanding amongst nations...we want to make things better for our children and for children around the world.”