Three Possible Scenarios for Iran's Nuclear Talks

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tayebeh Mohammadikia
PhD Candidate of International Relations in Allameh Tabatabai University, Tehran

Iran's nuclear negotiations have reached their sensitive stage. Now, the time is ripe to review future prospects of these negotiations more accurately and talk about the final outcome of the nuclear talks with more precision. However, the way ahead is still surrounded by ambiguity and problems. Under the present circumstances, analysts focusing on these negotiations are faced with three main assumptions: inability of the two sides to reach an agreement, achievement of a final agreement, and finally, further extension of the negotiations. Each of these possible scenarios is discussed in more detail below.

1. Achievement of a final agreement

Any analysis of conditions that may surface after “achievement of an agreement” will be a function of the arrangement of powers on the two main sides of the equation; that is, Iran and the United States, as well as the analysis of other forces that have their own influence at international, regional and global levels. Here, possible options available to powerful political forces within domestic political scene of these two countries will be explained first before turning to major influential powers in international arena.

   1.1. Arrangement of powers in Iran and the US if an agreement is not achieved

A nuclear agreement has staunch supporters and proponents both in Iran and the United States. However, the other possibility, that is, inability to reach an agreement, has also its own important and influential proponents. There are specific sections in the power structures of both Iran and the United States that do not want an agreement to be reached. At least, part of the political structure in both countries is against an agreement which would be achieved by retreating from certain positions on the two sides. They only think of an agreement that would allow them to mention it as an effective success and triumph at international level. At any rate, it seems that there are numerous groups in both countries that will stand against an agreement and do all they can to challenge such an agreement. Such a challenge will start with sharp and hasty remarks and will go all the way to making decisions to put obstacles on the way of policymakers that are bent on reaching an agreement; namely the administrations of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his American counterpart, Barack Obama. There is also a serious possibility that the new US Congress, which will open soon, would not accept an agreement with Iran. The new Congress is even possible to take an extreme measure and heighten unilateral sanctions against Iran. The power structure in the United States pivots around the president and this makes it possible for Obama administration to rely on its Democrat supporters at the Congress and reach an agreement with Iran and abide by its obligations without seeking the green light of the majority Republicans at the Congress. The US government, in most cases, is also able to veto decisions that may be taken by the Congress to create obstacles in this regard. Despite these facts, Obama and his colleagues will have to use sharper and more critical literature with regard to Iran in areas that have nothing to do with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program. Also, in order to get the agreement, or at least to reduce the impact of the Congress’ critical approach to US agreement with Iran, they will have to pretend that the agreement has been a failure for Iran's foreign policy and a victory of them. Under such circumstances, forces that are opposed to an agreement with the United States will see their chance to boost their activities in Iran.

Everybody is aware of the serious and fundamental sensitivity of Iranian decision-makers toward the political jargon used by the American politicians. This sensitivity has frequently come to the surface when Iranian authorities have used a sharp and critical language in the face of the United States verbal threats. Also, political forces opposed to an agreement in Iran are totally possible to take special measures. The measures taken by such forces may cover a wide spectrum, including providing more support for resistance groups in the region. In this way, if an agreement is reached, the political conditions governing relations between Iran and the United States will experience a positive development as there will be no more rhetoric about a possible US military attack. However, at the same time, verbal attacks will continue to rise as political forces on both sides of this equation will do what they can to scuttle such an agreement.

   1.2. Power arrangement in the region if an agreement is not achieved

Through a thorough analysis, the regional states and entities located in Iran's periphery can be divided into three major categories: hostile, relatively hostile, and relatively friendly. Israel should be put in the first category. The second category includes Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia (apart from Iraq, Syria and Oman), while the third category contains other countries in the region, including Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iraq. The first category will not welcome an agreement with Iran both in reality and in its political remarks and will show its clear opposition to such an agreement. It even seems that Israel will lose no time to declare its lack of commitment to such an agreement. In this way, it is quite possible for Israel to continue to announce that it will not hesitate to attack Iran any time it deems necessary. Countries in the second category will take a two-tier policy toward Iran's nuclear agreement. In their declared policies, they will hail the agreement. However, behind the scenes and in diplomatic conversations between Arab countries and the Americans, the former side will talk about imbalance in regional security arrangements as a result of the agreement. These Arab states will also not hide their consternation over increasing importance of Iran in both regional and international foreign policy. In fact, these countries will be more concerned about their own positon in the region; a position which has taken shape and become meaningful on the basis of hostility between Iran and the United States and their dependence on the United States. The third category is expected to give a genuine welcome to Iran's nuclear agreement. Countries in the third category (such as Turkey and Pakistan) either follow independent policies in the region and, therefore, their national interests are intertwined with increased regional stability, or are relatively dependent on Iran and, therefore termination of tensions in relations between Iran and the United States will be to their benefit. In any case, improved relations between Iran and the United States would be to their benefit and would reduce the costs of having simultaneous relations with these two regional and global powers. Iraq is a good example in this regard.

If an agreement is not reached

Inability to achieve an agreement would be tantamount to a surge in all kinds of threats. In fact, each side of the negotiations has posed increasing threats to the other side and has been trying to blame the opposite side as the party responsible for inability to achieve an agreement and subsequent enforcement of its threats. Iran has been threatening to cut its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and go ahead with its nuclear energy program. On the other side, the United States has been boasting about the possibility of military strikes against Iran in order to prevent the country from building nuclear weapons. However, despite various threats posed by each side to the other, it is not likely that in practice, any one of them is willing or even able to realize its threats against the other side.

In fact, neither Iran is definitively expected to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and shun its obligations, nor the United States military attack against Iran is considered a decisive and planned option. Therefore, everything that may happen in practice will most probably take place at two levels. At the first level, we will see a high volume of the exchange of political and aggressive rhetoric. That rhetoric will, for its part, give a more serious quality to the existing hostile atmosphere than any time before, and will exacerbate bilateral distrust. However, it should not be ignored that Iran and the United States have always used such a rhetoric against each other and, therefore, more use of hostile words will not bring about a basic change in the political conditions that govern the two countries’ relations. At the second level, every one of these two players will do their best to make the most of all the possibilities at their disposal with the Americans trying to expand and extend their unilateral sanctions against Iran. Of course, it seems that their ability to realize the original goals of the sanctions has been worn off, but this does not mean that they are unable to further expand the sanctions against Iran. The Islamic Republic, in turn, will speed up expansion of its nuclear energy program, though it will to quit the NPT.

Further extension of negotiations

Further extension of negotiations will show relative success of the two sides, on the one hand, while on the other hand, it will be a sign of their lack of readiness to face the costs of inability to reach an agreement. More importantly, however, extension of the negotiations will send a clear message: reaching an agreement is difficult as a result of wide gaps between the two sides. The outcome of such a situation can be one of the following:

1. Reaching agreement at a later time: Achievement of an agreement at a later time is directly related to the negotiating parties’ strategy for extension of negotiations. This will represent a last-ditch effort by both sides, and they may be better able to explain it to domestic opponents of the negotiations. In fact, under these circumstances, the two sides will be in a better situation than today to explain the reasons why they withdrew from some of their positions.

2. Inability to reach an agreement at a later time: This scenario will not be necessarily worse than declaring the failure of the negotiations at the end of the ongoing round of talks. One may even claim that under such circumstances, both sides will be in a better position to explain why they failed to achieve an agreement. They will be able to blame lack of agreement on the intransigence of the other side, which in spite of their own goodwill throughout the negotiations, caused nuclear talks to hit a deadlock. In other words, even if the extension of the negotiations does not lead to an agreement, the two sides would not be facing tougher conditions than what they may have to face in case the current round of the nuclear talks end in failure.

Key Words: Iran's Nuclear Talks, Possible Scenarios, Final Agreement, US, Arrangement of Powers, Obama Administration, Congress, Arab States, International Atomic Energy Agency, Non-Proliferation Treaty, Extension of Negotiations, Mohammadikia

*Photo Credit: Fararu