Behind the Scenes at the Iranian Nuclear Negotiation

I am fascinated to learn behind-the-scenes stories of high-profile negotiations, like the negotiation over Iranian nuclear capabilities, which the New York Times just described.

Interesting tidbit:  the negotiators used an erasable whiteboard so that the Iranians didn’t have a document they could send back to their superiors in Tehran.

Another unusual arrangement:   “[T]he Iranians did not want to publish a list of agreed upon points.  So it was agreed that each side would put out its own — as long as they did not directly contradict each other.”

The article refers to arguments by critics and defenders of the framework about whether it was as favorable as it might have been.  These woulda, coulda, shoulda arguments are interesting intellectual exercises.

In general, I am skeptical of “Monday morning negotiators” who claim that they could have gotten a better deal because they would have been better and tougher negotiators.  I normally assume that if each side has reasonably competent negotiators, they get the best deal they can considering what the other side is willing to concede.

As a practical matter, the question is whether the negotiated framework is better than a realistically possible renegotiated agreement or non-agreement alternatives such as increased sanctions or military action.

In this situation, there had always been plans for a second round of negotiation.  Although the second round is supposed to work out the technical details, presumably there will be opportunities for each side to try to offset what it sees as deficiencies in the framework from the first round.


April 5, 2015 update:

A follow-up article indicates that there are differences in the documents issued by the US and Iran.   To some extent, this is to be expected since the point was to permit each side to develop an account favorable to its side — and that would presumably help sell the agreement in the face of opposition back home.  To some extent, the difference reportedly is due to lack of time to review each other’s statements.

(Also, I added the paragraph about Monday morning negotiators.)


April 10, 2015 update:

In a column in the Washington Post about the Iran nuclear negotiation, Fareed Zakaria wrote, “[F]ormer secretary of state James Baker remarked that the key to success in negotiations is to put yourself in your adversary’s shoes and see the world from that perspective.”

I suspect that we would all agree that this is helpful if not essential in negotiation.  Yet it is very hard to do, even for DR experts,  because it is easy to assume that others see the world as we do.  This self-centered assumption seems particularly common for many people in politics and the media.   Zakaria’s piece is unusual because it provides an interesting account of the situation from Iranians’ perspective.

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  1. The system is going flaky again, sometimes not accepting comments, so I added some comments to the body of the post.

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