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Iran’s Negotiating Strategy
Representatives of the European Union, Iran and world powers attend talks on reviving the nuclear agreement at the Grand Hotel in Vienna, Austria on April 6, 2021. (EU Delegation in Vienna / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Iran’s Negotiating Strategy

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, April 2

The Iranians have their own negotiating style. If we look historically at how they dealt with their opponents, how they conducted their negotiations, and how they reached results and gains, we will find that they used an identical strategy that has repeated itself time and again. Unfortunately, Western negotiators suffer short-term “negotiating memory,” which allows the Iranian mullahs to dupe their interlocutors time and again. For example, Tehran builds its negotiations with the West in general and with America in particular by explicitly crossing red lines and testing its opponents’ reactions in real time. Of course, these attacks are carried out by the hands of Iranian mercenaries and subcontractors such as Hizbullah, the Iraqi militias or the Houthis, allowing Iran to benefit from the results of the attacks without footing the bill and without losing leverage in negotiations. During the period of US President Barack Obama, negotiations took place between Iran and America on the first nuclear agreement, and when those negotiations reached bottlenecks or explosive topics, Tehran then fabricated security and political crises – for example, in Iraq, Afghanistan or southern Lebanon – to pressure and blackmail Washington into making concessions. Iran has turned these crises into negotiating cards that can be traded with the West to solve diplomatic impasses, which would have otherwise remained insolvable. The conversation surrounding the removal of the Revolutionary Guards from the terrorist list follows the same strategy. Lifting the sanctions off of the Revolutionary Guards is not a topmost priority for Iran, but rather appears as a secondary goal. So why does Tehran insist on this? Removing the Revolutionary Guards from the terror watchlist indicates the existence of a crisis in the negotiations. Teheran is using this card to deflect attention away from more major obstacles taking place in its talks with the West, with a desire to reach a quicker agreement that suits its needs. Iran wants to exhaust America and bog it down in complicated peripheral issues that would keep its attention away from the major, and more controversial, questions at hand. Then, when Washington is exhausted, Tehran would concede and agree to keep the Guards under sanctions but would demand far-fetched concessions in return – perhaps in places like Yemen, Syria, or Lebanon. This will inevitably come at the expense of America’s longstanding partners and allies in the region, which is what Riyadh always warns of. – Mohammed Al-Saed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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