By Azin Sahabi

CSIS scenario for nuclear talks: A roadmap to failure

February 3, 2021 - 16:10

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C which conducts policy studies and strategic analyses of political, economic and security issues throughout the world.

As number one think tank in the United States across all fields in 2019, the center publishes numerous reports about the Islamic Republic of Iran as a permanent key area of focus for the Oval Office. Given Joe Biden’s tendency to reenter the JCPOA, the prominent scholars at CSIS have addressed the issue from strategic and geopolitical aspects.

 Iran will not capitulate  

In a commentary on January 25, 2021, Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East (West Asia) Program at CSIS, speculates on Iran’s likely tactics to seek advantage in the so called “follow-on” negotiations with the U.S. and its partners. In a commentary titled “Iran Will Still be a Slog”,  Alterman argues that what the Trump’s administration hailed as a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran proved fruitless.  There was no regime change in Tehran, the missile program continued and Tehran began enriching large amounts of uranium to much higher concentrations. In fact, as the maximum pressure campaign was met with strengthened “maximum resistance” from Iran, it was all in vain.

In spite of Biden’s administration statements on pursuing a different policy towards Iran,  Alterman believes no different outcome will be reached. He argues: “The more the administration pursues the Iranians, the more the Iranians will pull back, in a bid to increase their leverage. Yet, the more the United States pulls back, the more the Iranians will try to force the United States to engage.”

Therefore, he stresses that Washington should not anticipate that “a supposedly wounded Iran will capitulate”. In fact, the best path forward for the U.S is to “anticipate a drawn-out process punctuated by crisis.”

Iran’s likely tactics in negotiations

Alterman stresses that the U.S.-Iranian conflict is “one of vastly unequal parties” and given multidimensional pressures Iran struggles with, Tehran is pretty convinced to be in a comprehensive existential battle. Therefore, “the Iranian government pulls out all the stops. Its playbook at this point is fairly clear, and it has three principal elements.”

 “Determination  to show strength”

To elaborate on the first element that he believes Iran will adhere to, Alterman reminds that when President Donald Trump called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in 2019, he didn’t leave his room to answer the call. In this context, the expert argues: “The Iranian government is convinced that showing weakness is a fatal mistake, and its determination to show strength often pushes it to overplay its hand.”

 “Using time as leverage”

The CSIS scholar claims that “Iran uses time as leverage” as the second principle. He believes during nuclear negotiations with the Obama administration, the Iranian side demonstrated no hurry to reach a conclusion. He adds, “After all, the United States was trying to manage the world, but Iran was focused principally on managing the United States.”

“Creating urgency”

The American strategist also says, “The third principle is to create urgency among negotiating counterparts, to reinforce the conclusion that Tehran is more dangerous when it is isolated than when it is engaged.”

To support his hypothesis, Alterman accuses Iran of conducting sabotage acts. He describes them as “difficult to  attribute, at least immediately, and therefore more difficult to respond to.”

Like his counterparts at the U.S. think tanks, he accuses Iran of arranging cyber-attacks and reiterates that it was Iran that conducted drone attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in September 2019. Also, he claims that Tehran attacked the four commercial ships on May 12, 2019, off Fujairah's coast in the Gulf of Oman to reinforce the threating perception of Iran amid rising tensions with the U.S. in the Persian Gulf.

In addition, the American think tank describes Iran’s recent remedial activities that are formally declared and are based on paragraph 36 of the JCPOA as a means to “create urgency”. The author also describes Iran’s nuclear program as “an instrument to regulate diplomatic tensions rather than as a scientific endeavor.”

“Seeing negotiations with Iran in terms of JCPOA is a mistake”

Alterman points out that many U.S. allies and partners are impatient to return to the JCPOA. On the other hand, Arab states in the Persian Gulf feel great threat that such a return would put them in danger. The fellow also reiterates that the 2015 agreement suffers from sufficient defects in terms of sunset provisions as well as significant ambiguities over the enforcement mechanism. However, Alterman emphasizes that notwithstanding this, “seeing negotiations with Iran in terms of the JCPOA is a mistake. There is no easy return. Instead, what is on offer is a long and difficult set of negotiations.”

The author believes that with Iran’s June 2021 presidential elections ahead, Tehran is unlikely to conclude an extensive agreement.

Alterman also comments on the attitude of Iran’s next president towards the negotiations. Nearly without a shadow of doubt, he states that Iran’s June 2021 presidential elections “will almost certainly produce a leader far more skeptical of negotiations than outgoing President Hassan Rouhani. In the interim, Iranians will fight to position themselves for the forthcoming negotiations, using all three strategies noted above.”

He summarizes the Iranians’ negotiation strategy as “embarking on a process of negotiations, not finding a solution” and concludes: “There will be an Iran deal, and then another Iran deal, but they (Biden’s team) are unlikely to be able to strike the Iran deal that eliminates threats from Iran once and for all.”

CSIS scenarios: Roadmaps to failure

The Center for Strategic and International Studies which houses over 100 of the world’s top experts in residence is considered as one of the most influential centers in terms of scenario building, policy design and setting roadmaps for the U.S. decision makers. Undoubtedly, due to the complexities of the Iran nuclear negotiations, U.S.’s non-compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA as well as domestic divisions over the issue, future talks will be quite demanding. In addition, given conflicting interests of the two main parties besides high level of distrust, the risk of failure is considerable. On the other hand, Joe Biden had described his mission as “Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy after Trump,” with Iran’s issue at the top of the list. In this context, it seems that CSIS’s scenario building in terms of the possible results of future talks with Tehran is aimed to put the ball in Iran’s court. In other words, the CSIS which describes the Iranian side’s strategy as “embarking on a process of negotiations, not finding a solution”, tries to induce the perception that in case of any failures in the negotiations, the one who should be blamed is the Islamic Republic of Iran, not the American side.


  • 2021-02-03 18:50
    it was the evil rednecks fault so let them eat cake as its redneck party

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