How to Facilitate Bargaining in New Geneva Negotiations?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Expert of Strategic Issues

As the pace of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers is increasing and, at the same time, the two sides are engaged in diplomatic maneuvers aimed at creating equal opportunities and elevating the quality of talks over Iran's nuclear program, the value of coming up with diplomatic initiatives is being more appreciated by all negotiating parties. As if there is an unwritten agreement between the two negotiating sides to move toward a minimal deal which would be feasible and practical for both of them. In the meantime, third parties – that are opposed to a possible deal between the two sides – have become more dexterous in their obstructionist maneuvers. On the other hand, the officials of Israel have come to realize that the Obama administration has tactical differences with them in terms of its approach to Iran's nuclear energy program as a result of which Israelis have lost hope in the possibility of a rapid change in [US President Barack] Obama’s policy toward Iran. As a result, the gravity center of the Israeli lobby’s activities has shifted from the United States to Europe. At the same time, they have been also trying to undermine Russia’s position in support of Iran. In the meantime, the most important question posed here is what is the main reason behind tactical differences between the Israeli regime and the US administration and why those differences have been brought into the light?

West has lost hope in deceiving Iran

Iran and the Western sides have taken part in frequent diplomatic meetings and negotiations in the past ten days as a result of which the Western sides have owned up to the negotiating finesse of the Iranian negotiating teams and have highlighted the role of the Iranian intellectual capacity in those talks. After they lost hope in the success of their negotiating games with Iran, the Western sides resorted to “correspondence diplomacy” by writing letters addressed to high-ranking Iranian officials as a way to get out of the nuclear standoff. They have understood that the policy of pressure will not bring Iran to its knees. The combination of the sanctions policy and reliable military threat has not been able to bring about major changes in the negotiations. Therefore, it is quite necessary for Iran's negotiating sides to change their game following the election of the 11th Iranian administration. By now, they should have understood the importance of changing their strategy toward their new negotiating partners and try to move toward a preliminary and minimal agreement with the Islamic Republic.

Changing level of consensus among P5+1

After the beginning of the new round of nuclear negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva, Iran offered its new plan which has become a turning point in negotiations by shedding more light on the differences that exist among Western governments with regard to their interest in and approach to Iran's nuclear case. Paris has been trying to use its opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran as a means of settling old scores it has had with Washington in various fields including in the area of rivalry over selling arms to the Arab countries of the Middle East. By doing this, France also intends to criticize the United States’ position on the Syria crisis and its unwillingness to pay the price of supporting European countries within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Applying the old double approach through a new policy

Since the general coordinates of the nuclear talks have changed, certain political groups that are opposed to a possible deal over Iran's nuclear energy program, have changed their game and replaced their old policy of pressure and negotiations with a new one which can be described as “pressure and demand.” In this way, by changing expectations and through management of different variables and changing various stages of mutual bargaining, they are trying to cause the new round of talks to grind to a halt and hit a deadlock. Increasing expectations about unilateral confidence building steps and reducing the concessions they want to give to the opposite side in order to reach their desired result in early stages of the talks, are among threadbare tactics to which they have resorted in the new round of negotiations with Iran.

Playing with proposals and stoking difference

Due to urgent need of Israel to play a new role in Iran's nuclear talks, some European politicians have been engaged in a multifaceted game during the new round of nuclear negotiations. The most prominent example was the position taken by Paris which clearly indicated that the French government has already “sold” its position during Geneva 2 talks on Iran's nuclear energy program to a number of political customers. By taking advantage of France’s position, Tel Aviv has been trying to play its new role by making it hard for the negotiating parties to bargain and reach a possible agreement. On the other hand, Iran, which has a good understanding of the game and whose officials have already reached a consensus among them on the coordinates of this diplomatic game, has chosen “the element of wisdom and reasonable behavior” as the main rule of its own game. In this way, although the Iranian leaders are not optimistic about the final conclusion of the negotiations, they will be able to convince the world about the value of their position. At the same time, although Israel has been trying to appear as the final judge on Iran's nuclear energy program, under new circumstances, it has actually turned into a destructive player. The West should have reached the conclusion that Iran will not let the Western states impose their own model on the Islamic Republic when it comes to Iran's national interests.

Negotiations aimed at prolonging problem or moving toward a solution?

If the West actually decided to change its approach to Iran from confrontation to interaction, for which the ongoing talks could be litmus test, it would be possible to provide new grounds for mutual and balanced cooperation between the two sides. The policy of delaying a possible agreement by paying undue attention to trivial details, putting unbalanced proposals on the table, downplaying Iran's initiatives, taking advantage of Iran's goodwill to impose new obligations on the country, deciding about the outcome of negotiations before they have even started, and taking steps to impose such a predetermined outcome on the participants, will practically obstruct the way to forward progress. Such a behavior on the part of the Western negotiators will clearly prove that they only want to “prolong the problem” despite showing false willingness to engage in talks with Iran. This approach will, in the course of time, not only leave its negative mark on Iran's nuclear case, but also give birth to a new, inappropriate trend in international diplomacy, whose effects will be seen in other areas as well.

How to facilitate bargaining in new Geneva negotiations?

Since the Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] has already lent his support to the new Iranian administration and its nuclear team – which is headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif –, there is a new opportunity for both negotiating sides to engage in constructive interaction. Therefore, having a good understanding of the existing conditions and attaching due importance to reaching an understanding are two flip sides of the same coin, which in addition to the degree of commitment shown by both sides, will constitute the main framework within which a sustainable agreement can be achieved.

Asking for too much in the negotiations and disregard for the requisites of mutual cooperation would be a poison to any possible agreement. Therefore, it is incumbent on all the member states of the P5+1 group of world powers to control their behaviors, manage certain ideas that are imposed on them from the outside, and keep some opposition political currents in check. The ongoing negotiations are a good test for the US administration to show that whether it is in a position of weakness, or is powerful enough to overcome unfavorable conditions.

Key Words: New Geneva Negotiations, Bargaining, P5+1 Group of World Powers, Obama Administration, Iran, Old Double Approach, Koleini

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