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Negotiations with Iran: Three Questions with Professor Anthony Wanis-St. John

Anthony Wanis-St. John

Iran and six world powers recently failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to address Iran's nuclear program. The group agreed to extend an interim agreement for four months. Associate Professor Anthony Wanis-St. John, an expert on international negotiations, describes the prospects for a deal.

Q: What are the terms of the interim deal?

A: The interim negotiation process is predicated on very concrete offers by the United States and the European Union for sanctions relief and increased trade in exchange for equally concrete measures to be taken by Iran to reduce the quantity and degree of their uranium enrichment. The U.S. sanctions relief included repatriation of $4.2 billion of Iran’s overseas frozen funds, facilitating Iran’s oil trade to the EU, and granting of U.S. trade licenses for civil aviation spare parts. Iran began diluting and converting its more highly enriched stocks of uranium, among other compliance activities.

But the main purpose of the interim deal is to build mutual confidence so that a permanent deal can be reached. The parties gave themselves a tight deadline, and missed it. This is not alarming though—this is not currently a crisis scenario.

Q: Tehran says it will resume talks in September to try to reach a final agreement. What would a long-term deal look like?

A: A comprehensive agreement would probably be based on a core trade: deeper sanctions relief and more trade from the United States and the EU, in exchange for stricter safeguards on the nuclear facilities and enrichment activities of Iran—measures that would assure Iran’s neighbors that it is not building a nuclear warhead. This has both strategic and technical aspects. One reassuring move would be for Iran to get its enriched uranium from other countries, but the Iranians seem unlikely to give up this capability, although they seem willing to place limits on it.

Q: Some members of the U.S. Congress are worried that Tehran has not been negotiating in good faith and that the Obama administration will concede too much to Iran. What are the prospects for continued negotiations?

A: The choice is between sanctions (or military measures) and negotiations. Sanctions clearly have been ineffective in preventing Iran from developing its nuclear capabilities. Negotiations in which Iran agrees to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and complies with the terms of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its protocols have a better chance of getting compliance. The Iranians have negotiated in good faith on this issue before, and some Iranian policymakers and opinion leaders feel that a nuclear weapon capability would make the country less safe (Libya, Ukraine, and South Africa espoused this when giving up their nukes). There could be an Iranian counterargument that looks to Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea as examples that support the drive to have weapons.

There is never any guarantee that negotiations will work, or that parties will always negotiate in good faith, but negotiations also have the potential to get the most cooperation at the lowest cost.

To request an interview with Professor Wanis-St. John, call (202) 885-5943. Follow him on Twitter: @anthonywanis.