Talks and Triumphalism

(…) This is all about the basic negotiating principle that it takes two to make an agreement. For an agreement to be made requires that both sides see it in some sense as a win. This means recognizing that the relationship is not zero-sum. The Iranian-U.S. relationship is indeed not zero-sum; there are feasible agreements that would be better for both sides than the absence of an agreement.

The triumphalist urge—encouraged by political discourse in which Iran is viewed as a beast to be bested—is one but only one of the impediments to success in any new round of talks between Iran and the P5+1. Another impediment is Western impatience, amid talk about windows of vulnerability and the like. Another is an inability or unwillingness to distinguish Iranian bargaining positions from Iranian bottom lines. Iranians are consummate bazaaris, and reaching a bargain with them will take time. Yet another impediment is the ever-intensifying atmosphere of hostility and the prominent part that regime change plays in Western discourse about Iran.

A further problem is the narrowness of the Western agenda. The fixation on Iran's nuclear program makes it easy to overlook how much a negotiation centered on that program represents a concession by Iran. The role-reversed equivalent would be if the only thing Iran wanted to negotiate about was the Western nuclear-weapons states' disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Paul R. Pillar is director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program and a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia.

The above article was published in nationalinterest.org on February 16th, 2012.

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