As the latest round of P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran continue in Vienna, The Washington Post’s Carol Morello provides the play-by-play:
A grueling day of talks Wednesday between senior American, Iranian and European diplomats produced no breakthrough agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, but officials said they still aim to reach a deal by the Nov. 24 deadline.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met for a total of six hours stretching through most of the afternoon and late into the night at an exclusive hotel in the center of Vienna.
A senior State Department official characterized each step of progress in the talks as “chipping away” at complex, technical differences, with virtually every sentence requiring an appendix of further explanation.
“We continue to make progress, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the difficult and secretive negotiations.
As these negotiations go on, I’m increasingly of two minds about them.
The political scientist in me thinks they are a good idea. From a grand strategy perspective, the United States seems to have an awful lot on its plate right now. Heightened tension with Iran seems like a luxury that the U.S. can’t afford right now.
The natural counterargument is that Iran can’t be trusted and that this is a trap. That’s partly a function of the precise contours of the deal, but there are powerful reasons why Iran would want a deal for now and in the future. As I noted earlier this week, according to Jessica Weeks’s “Dictators At War and Peace,” “civilian authoritarian regimes are about as risk-averse towards initiating force as democracies,” and Iran is very much a civilian authoritarian regime. This doesn’t necessarily mean Iran is trustworthy — it just means that it is in Iran’s interests to seek a peaceful solution as well.
Furthermore, if Etel Solingen is correct in her book “Nuclear Logics,” then the fact that Iran wants to re-engage the global economy is the best sign that they will adhere to an agreement over the long term. An express goal of the Rouhani regime in Iran is to open up its economy to the outside world. Countries that do that tend to be more reluctant to risk losing those benefits through an aggressive nuclear program.
So that’s the political science… but then we come to the politics. Over at the Huffington Post, National Iranian American Council research director Reza Marashi tries to make the case that 95 percent of the deal is done, and that there’s just one pesky thing getting in the way of a completed agreement. Here are the closing paragraphs:
As another Western diplomat told me: “If it was up to the negotiators, the deal would be done. It’s now up to political leaders on both sides to take yes for an answer.” Acknowledging the tremendous progress that has been achieved to date does not lessen the importance of the unresolved issues. But those issues need not torpedo a historic diplomatic victory. The common thread that runs through each of these issues is simple: political leaders in Washington and Tehran will need to show a greater willingness to absorb and sell compromise.
The reality facing both sides will not change: There are spoilers in the U.S. and Iran who will try to torpedo a deal, no matter the details. Precisely because it is impossible to satisfy ideologues, they only way to defeat them is to have a deal in hand that both sides believe is a win-win outcome. That will force the ideologues to publicly flesh out the details of their alternative — and the only alternative to a comprehensive deal is war. That is Obama and Rouhani’s trump card, and as November 24 approaches, they must play to win the game.
Advice like this to political leaders always reminds me of this:
Complaining that domestic politics is getting in the way of a nuclear deal is a little like complaining that enriched uranium is getting in the way of a nuclear deal — they are both intrinsic to the negotiations. As Morello notes in her report:
Domestic politics, both in the United States and Iran, are adding to the sense of urgency. Some Republicans have openly opposed lifting sanctions, so if they gain control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, it may be more difficult to get the votes needed for a deal. Iranian hard-liners have objected to concessions, and the position of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, has been vague.
You can’t just yadda yadda yadda domestic politics out of this kind of negotiation — a fact that any political scientist familiar with “two-level games” will acknowledge, by the way.
It’s also not obvious to me, by the way, that either President Obama or President Hassan Rouhani will be able to make the hard sell on a compromise to their respective legislatures. It’s not like Obama’s national security street-cred is riding terribly high at the moment, and Rouhani has his own hardliners to massage.
So the political scientist in me thinks that a nuclear deal would be good for the United States in the short and long runs. But that same political scientist in me is also increasingly skeptical about arguments that leadership will somehow be able to override hardliners in both countries to get to that deal.
Am I missing anything?