Negotiation 101: Why Iran Walked Out of 'Technical' Talks

Negotiation 101: Why Iran Walked Out of 'Technical' Talks

Iran has already achieved a major coup in negotiations with the P5+1 (the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China) by winning the fact of, if not the right to, nuclear enrichment. Now it is out to eliminate all of the sanctions it has suffered for carrying out its secret nuclear program in the first place. That was made clear Friday when Iranian diplomats abruptly walked out of “technical” discussions between the parties.

There was no legitimate basis for the walkout. The excuse was that the U.S. announced that it would continue to enforce existing sanctions, regardless of the six-month deal that rolls back some sanctions starting on Jan. 15. That may reinforce the arguments of Obama administration officials who argue that adding new sanctions, as some in Congress want to do, will only prompt the entire diplomatic process with Iran to collapse.

Yet these were not new sanctions. Iran wants to send a clear message that the existing sanctions themselves are a problem–even those not covered by the deal–and that it wants those to be entirely eliminated. That is certainly an expectation that Iranian leaders have laid out for the final deal, and they are emphasizing it by walking out of talks. They also know that the Obama administration would agree to even more lopsided terms.

The Iranian walkout fulfills the warning made by former Bush administration official Douglas Feith last month, who noted that democracies keep international agreements but dictatorships often violate them. The Iranian regime knows that the Obama administration will do everything it can to avoid conflict, and therefore will do everything it can to save a deal, even a bad one. Hence it is altering the deal, in actions if not in words.