How Not to Negotiate With Iran

If we want diplomacy to have a chance of avoiding a war over Iran’s nuclear program, we need to pay greater attention to what Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA and now at Georgetown University, is saying:

We ought to hope that the description in a New York Times report of the U.S. position going into negotiations with Iran about nuclear activities does not fairly represent what U.S. and other Western negotiators will bring to the table. … The lede of the Times story is that the Obama administration and its European partners will open the talks by “demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling” of Iran’s uranium-enrichment facility at Fordo. This is the newer of two such Iranian facilities and the one that—because it was constructed, no doubt at substantially higher cost, inside a mountain—is relatively less vulnerable to armed attack. … The Western message to Tehran seems pretty clear: we might be willing to tolerate some sort of Iranian nuclear program, but only one consisting of facilities that would suffer significant damage if we, or the Israelis, later decide to bomb it. In other words, we insist on holding Iranian nuclear facilities hostage to armed attack. Not the sort of formula that inspires trust among Iranian leaders and gives them much incentive to move toward an agreement.

These comments reinforce what noted author and Iran expert Trita Parsi said in February:

Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Obama’s diplomacy with Iran failed. It did not. As I argue in my new book A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran, it was prematurely abandoned. … The Netanyahu government and its Washington allies compromised Obama’s vision … [by insisting] that diplomacy be given an unrealistically tight deadline of twelve weeks.

Unless we want war with Iran, we need to rethink our negotiating strategy. And, before we decide that war is acceptable, we should consider what retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in February:

If they [Iranians] have the intent, all the weapons in the world are not going to change that … [An Israeli attack] can slow it down. They can delay it, some estimate two to five years. But that does not take away the intellectual capital.

Martin Hellman

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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2 Responses to How Not to Negotiate With Iran

  1. Iran 24/07 says:

    Last official Iranian poll shows that: 60% of Iranians want Nuclear Program stopped – and sanctions removed

    What do YOU think on the matter?

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Thanks for that interesting data point. I’m continually baffled by polls presenting data that seems totally at odds with conventional wisdom — and that conventional wisdom determining government policies. As a recent example, WorldPublicOpinion.Org, run by a former Stanford colleague, found that [Large] Majorities in Both Red and Blue Districts Favor Deep Cuts in Defense Spending. See for details. Similarly, about a year or so ago, they did a survey which showed over 60% of Americans supported the UN — I don’t have that URL handy right now. One hypothesis I’ve come up with to explain why Congress can vote in ways that go against what the public seems to want has to do with priorities. Even if 99% of Americans favored a stronger UN, but that issue was far down their priority list, no one is going to get voted out of office over it. How this relates to Iran is not clear, but it’s the best i have off the top of my head.

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