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The Follies of Pressuring Iran to “lower the bar” in Negotiations

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Farideh Farhi reflects on the North Korean deal and it’s relevance to negotiations with Iran:

…the deal was struck under the premise succinctly articulated by the lead American negotiator, Christopher Hill. “To get something in this world, you’ve got to give something,” he said. I say, Amen! Now that Christopher Hill has managed to strike a deal with North Korea, can he replace Nicholas Burns as the head honcho on Iran and start cooking something with evil’s last remaining axis?

Apparently not! This is what George Bush said on October 3rd in Lancaster county in response to a question posed by a 10th-grade student who asked him why he would not negotiate directly with Iranian leaders: “For diplomacy to work, the other side needs as much or more from you as you need from them.”

Now this is an interesting formulation and something that did not simply come out of the blue. The way it looks George Bush has thought a lot about his “Iran problem” and has found the reason for not negotiating with Iran over issues that concern the United States in the weakness of the American hand because the Iranians do not need the US to change or give up things as much as the US needs Iran to change.

Setting aside the curious, or more accurately mendacious, linguistic substitution of “needs” for “demands” that have been the hallmark of US policy vi’s-à-vis Iran since 2002, the presupposition of a weak negotiating hand without any attempted crack at actual negotiation is revealing in so far it suggests a prior knowledge of what Tehran will settle for irrespective of the process of direct and multi-faceted negotiation.

More specifically, it suggests a belief that the minimum bar for which Iran settles for at this point is not good enough for the U.S. It also reveals that all the strategizing to pressure and challenge Iran economically, politically, and even militarily is to change the dynamics so that the Iranians end up lowering that minimum bar because they are pushed into a position to “need as much or more” from the United States.

At what point, if ever, the United States will come to realize, given the American troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan and given the contested domestic terrain of Iran, that this strategy of forcing Iran to lower its minimum bar will not work, I do not know. It is also not yet clear whether the United States will come to realize, again given its troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, that Iran is a sufficiently significant player in the region that lack of engagement with it is detrimental to the U.S. objectives and interests in the Middle East.

What I do know is that serious negotiations with Iran is not being considered because despite the stalled sanctions process the Bush administration thinks that it can pressure Iran to lower its minimum bar. On this, I am pretty sure they are mistaken…

Irancove @ October 4, 2007

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