By Azin Sahabi

U.S. negotiation strategy in view of Washington Institute for Near East Policy

January 27, 2021 - 18:23

In the coming weeks, TRANSITION 2021 memos by Washington Institute for Near East Policy will address the broad issues facing the Biden administration in the West Asia region.

These range from the region’s strategic position in the context of Great Power competition, Iran’s nuclear program, and how to most effectively elevate human rights and democracy in West Asia.

Arab-Israel normalization diplomacy, Red Sea security as well as challenges and opportunities in northwest Africa will be addressed. In advance of the event, the think tank’s comments on the Islamic Republic of Iran is worth deliberating.

“Less for less” to get “more for more”

Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, provides an approach to reengaging Iran in nuclear diplomacy to preserve what he calls U.S. negotiating leverage and strengthen American alliances in Europe and across West Asia. He proposes an alternative “less for less” approach toward Iran for the U.S. to get “more for more”.

The coming Iran nuclear talks openings and obstacles

January 5, 2021

He argues:

 “ If regime change is not a realistic or advisable goal, the objective must be one of changing the Islamic Republic’s behavior. While this would be difficult, history shows that the regime will make tactical adjustments with strategic consequences when it considers the price of its policies to be too high.”

Presidential transition event: Thinking about the next phase of Iran nuclear diplomacy

January 6, 2021

Ross says:

-“ Biden will surely face a number of conflicting issues in the follow-up negotiation with Iran. So, the team should take into account the value of multiple policy instruments that can preserve the pressure but also provide Iran with a way out. First, it must deal with all the challenges that Iran poses, but also try not to hold the nuclear issue hostage to these other concerns.”

-“Second, Europeans and other actors outside the Middle East [West Asia] favor a quick return to the JCPOA, but Republicans remain almost uniformly opposed to it, and a sustainable policy will require bipartisan support.”

-“Third, while there is value in reassuring Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who are suspicious that returning to the JCPOA will diminish U.S. leverage over Iran, giving the regime little reason to negotiate any substantive follow-on agreements or deal with regional issues.”

-“Indeed, the United States wants to preserve its leverage—and show Iran the consequences of not changing its behavior—even as it incentivizes the regime to accept going beyond the JCPOA (e.g., by extending the agreement’s term and addressing ballistic missiles).

-“ Accordingly, an alternative “less for less” approach might make more sense, and could be easier to negotiate. Such an approach could also buy time for follow-on negotiations aimed at extending sunset provisions, dealing with ballistic missiles, and addressing Iran’s actions in the region.”

-“This would not mean a return to full compliance with the JCPOA, but it could extend Iran’s breakout time to nuclear weapons capability. In particular, it could reduce the nuclear threat by forcing Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, scale back its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 2,600 kilograms to 1,000  and dismantle two cascades of advanced centrifuges.”

- “In return, the United States could allow Iran to access some of its frozen overseas accounts, which would provide relief without lifting the U.S. sanctions regime.

Ross adds:

-“ Biden administration should continue:

Pressing Tehran on human rights

Supporting Iraq’s prime minister and military by expanding the political space in which they can operate

Supporting regional partners with enhanced, integrated defenses against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones

Promoting Arab-Israel normalization

Biden doesn’t need to rush back into the Iran nuclear deal to defuse tensions

Jan 19, 2021

Ross claims:

-“Iran has clearly decided to build pressure on the incoming Biden administration, conveying, in effect, that whatever its priorities, it had better deal with the Islamic Republic soon.”

-“Iran needs sanctions relief and wants the United States to fulfill its obligation under the JCPOA to lift all nuclear-related sanctions.

-“Joe Biden position is compliance for compliance, meaning that we cannot lift sanctions before the Iranians are back in. In addition, the Iranians are demanding compensation for what the sanctions have cost them and insisting that the United States, not Iran, must act first. While Biden might be open to providing humanitarian and medical supplies, his compliance for compliance signals that sanctions relief is not possible so long as Iran is violating the JCPOA.”

-“One way to break the impasse and make a virtue of necessity would be for the administration to shift the focus from rejoining the nuclear deal following Iran’s return to full compliance to a “less for less” deal: The United States provides limited sanctions relief; Iran scales back where it is not in compliance.”

He also mentions “ several benefits to such a “less for less” deal”:

“It would scale back the Iran nuclear program in a way that would extend its breakout time and make it less threatening; it would maintain our overall sanctions regime, it would buy time to try to achieve the longer-term agreements that the president seeks, it would make it far easier to gain some Republican buy-in given their almost uniform opposition to the JCPOA, even as it would reduce the Iranian nuclear threat Trump is leaving. Finally, it would be more likely to reassure the Israelis, Emiratis and Saudis who fear an early return to the deal, and the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions will give the Iranians little reason to change their threatening regional behavior.”

He concludes:

-“Negotiations are never easy with the Iranians. If, however, the Biden administration wants to produce follow-on negotiations that will require more from the Iranians while also giving them more in terms of economic benefits and not just sanctions relief,  it might make sense not to rejoin the nuclear deal. In other words, if we are to get to “more for more,” we need to start with less for less.”

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