Crafting Iranian Counter-Pressure

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

On the eve of a new round of multilateral nuclear talks in Geneva, France has taken the lead in expressing solidarity with Israel's hawkish stance on Iran and, in the words of President Francois Hollande, promising to press Iran very hard at the negotiation table. US negotiator Wendy Sherman has simultaneously warned of additional US sanctions on Iran if the talks fail and both Sherman and US Secretary of State John Kerry have called on Iran to take immediate unilateral steps to "prove its intent."

Such pre-Geneva maneuvers to jockey for position are responded by Iran's diplomatic efforts, such as with respect to China, which has been relatively effective, in light of China's expressed appreciation of Iran's constructive moves on the nuclear issue, as well as defense of Iran's NPT rights. On the other hand, Iran's foreign minister's call on world powers to make new offers instead of confining themselves to the past "packages of proposals" is apparently starting to make some headway in Western capitals, in light of unconfirmed reports that the "5 +1" nations are seriously pondering the idea of putting more sanctions relief on the table. If true, this is a welcome development that could, in turn, increase the new Geneva round's chances for success.

From Iran's point of view, a "win-win" scenario is possible, whereby Iran's nuclear rights would be protected and the international sanctions would be removed as a result of certain 'give and take' that would restore outside confidence in Iran's peaceful nuclear program. Certainly, an improvement of Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through a new modality, whereby the agency's lingering questions would be put to rest, would go a long way in establishing the international confidence in Iran's nuclear program. The mere presence of IAEA representatives in Geneva will benefit the parallel negotiation that goes to the heart of UN sanctions on Iran, which raise the issue of Iran-IAEA cooperation.

Of course, in terms of international law and the NPT guidelines, there is no bar to Iran's 20 percent enrichment and, therefore, the powers' request from Iran to suspend this is not based on any legally-binding standards, but rather as a voluntary "confide-building" step or initiative. Same thing with the other requests to shut down the heavy water facility in Arak and or to ship out a bulk of Iran's enriched uranium. Iran's potential acceptance of such requests is contingent on the West's acceptance of Iran's enrichment program and the lifting of unjust sanctions.

Looking through the darkly glass, in terms of strict negotiation strategy, the question is what happens if both sides fail to reach a compromise in Geneva? The answer is that the Western powers will most likely blame the failure on Iran and try to absolve themselves of any responsibility, while resorting to punitive sanctions as a remedy in order to escalate the pressures on Iran, hoping to extract a more favorable Iranian response by resorting to the language of threats.

But, threat and counter-threats go hand in hand and if the Western powers fail to put the main (i.e., financial and energy) sanctions on the table while they are insisting on serious preliminary concessions from Iran, then it becomes irrefutably evident that they are simply pursuing a "win-lose" scenario.

Consequently, despite the (rather feeble) hopeful signs that the Geneva round may yield a timely breakthrough in the nuclear standoff, the mere possibility of a Western strategy of "win-lose" toward Iran cannot be ignored and, in turn, raises the question of what is the proper response from Tehran?

This is an important question that turns our attention to the arsenal of Iranian 'chips on the table' in the nuclear poker that is the negotiation process. Naturally, Iran is keen on maximizing its chips and avoid 'going broke' by entering into an uneven agreement that disproportionately benefits the other side. Rather, Iran's moves and counter-moves are directed by the principles of rights, reciprocity, and mutual interests.

At the same time, in Iran's negotiation 'tool-kit' there is definitely a place for feasible "counter-threats" aimed at both neutralizing the other side's threats and to garner desired outcomes. For the sake of getting ahead in the negotiations, Iran must rely on all the available cards, including the positive (i.e. cooperation) as well as negative (withdrawal from cooperation) cards, or the game will be lost as a result of a one-dimensional and ultimately ineffective negotiation strategy. One reason why a more nuanced, multi-pronged and balanced Iranian approach is called for and necessary is simply because of the persistent pressure tactic by the Western powers led by the US, which forms the present backdrop to their plan of action for the coming Geneva round as mentioned above. Neutralizing such pressure tactics, that refer to hard power, by relying on soft power diplomacy, and assurance of Iran's good intentions, may not be sufficient and, instead, a mix of hard and soft power, issuing counter-pressure to offset the mounting pressures, is both logical and a sound negotiation strategy aimed at preventing a "win-lose" outcome.

Following this prudent Iranian negotiation strategy would not be risk-free or without certain side-effects, which is all the more reason why it requires the dexterous diplomatic hands in order to push the wheels of diplomatic chariot in tandem, otherwise it will be derailed due to one-dimensionality and lack of rigorous nuance fitted for the issue's inherent complexity. Any reductionism to simplistic conclusions and or assumptions needs to be avoided at all costs and the independent variable of complexity should be seriously taken into consideration by devising a multi-layered, and sufficiently comprehensive, negotiation strategy that is not bereft of dynamic and fluid tactics.

In this connection, Iran's counter-pressure tactics may appear in the form of subtle threats to decrease or even suspend its cooperation with the IAEA, close the nuclear facilities doors to the inspectors, exit the NPT, and take drastic measures to protect its interests in the vital sections of Persian Gulf, etc. Such steps in the face of a rigid, punitive, and punishing Western approach that would fail to reciprocate Iran's good faith negotiation, are not without their protean value, particularly if designed to offset the other side's layered pressures that rely on hard power threats. Such threats cannot be responded solely by soft power diplomacy and require hard power response. In a word, the West ought to know that there is a price for their unreasonable coercive approach toward Iran and, in the words of Foreign Minister Zarif, "the free lunch is over." Either there is a serious reconsideration of the "crippling sanctions" and the relentless economic warfare waged against Iran under the guise of nuclear crisis, or the other side must be prepared to face more severe backlashes from Iran.

Like a boxer wearing two different gloves, of flexible compromise on one hand and, on the other, the iron fist of counter-pressure, Iran must enter the new arena prepared to deal with all kinds of contingencies, including the distinct and realistic possibility that the West is addicted to a "win-lose" approach. Instead of bracketing this possibility and simply relying on Iran's good will, hoping that it will beget Western good will, is a risky proposition with respect to Iran's vested national interests that must be avoided at all costs. Put simply, in the brightening sky of nuclear negotiation there are still the dark clouds of threats and punishment hovering above Iran's head, which can be removed only by pursuing a comprehensive counter-strategy that makes optimum use of all the positive and negative cards in Iran's disposal, in a sophisticated and subtle manner that maintains a healthy balance in their complex and dynamic usage for the sake of a winning strategy.

*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) .  Afrasiabi is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction (2007), Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

Source: Press TV

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

*Little Hope for Nuclear Sparkle in Geneva:

*Rebooting US-Iran Relations:

*Zarif Turbocharges Iran's Diplomacy:

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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