How to Help Iran’s Rouhani






As I have written before the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb is a game changer.

America and its allies are now at a new crossroads in their nuclear standoff with Iran. The election of “moderate” Hassan Rouhani demands a fresh look at what can be expected after years of fruitless talks with outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s negotiating teams. The consensus of the foreign policy establishment is that his election represents a possibility that a compromise can be reached. Rouhani himself has spoken of a new route, one that would “repair the wound” in Iran’s foreign relations and spearhead policies of “moderation.”

Rouhani was clearly elected by a population weary of sanctions, the shortage of basic foodstuffs and the collapse of their upward mobility and—perhaps most importantly—the rial. The galloping inflation that has gripped the economy is making the fulfillment of quotidian needs of life painful for everyone but a small group of revolutionary insiders.

Amidst Rouhani’s assumption of the presidency, key questions are being discussed: How much power does he really have? Will Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allow him any leeway in the negotiations, or is Rouhani a domestic “useful idiot” in Khamenei’s nuclear bomb endgame?

The international speculation has begun in earnest. The editorial pages of the world’s leading newspapers are filled with opinions on the pros and cons of Rouhani that could befuddle anyone. Even Iranian mullahs have taken to lecturing the West on how to behave towards Iran and Rouhani. Western academics are also not holding back their ideas for how to negotiate with the new Iranian president. A fresh start is urged by all.

I am not a professional foreign policy expert, although I play one on this blog. I am, however, a professional negotiator who has made a living doing so for four decades. So here I offer my advice on how to negotiate the nuclear standoff with the Iranians and their new president.

In total secrecy, America should tell Rouhani the day Iran will be targeted for a full-on attack by a new coalition of the willing and his nuclear bomb-making facilities wiped out. Of course it will not actually be that day, but any day after of the West’s choosing. Only Rouhani needs to have this information; it should be kept from the world at large.  He can then share it with Khamenei and the military establishment. This is often a very effective way to negotiate and close a deal. Many times the buyer in a deal has given me the absolute bottom line on where they need to come out. They will often help out by making their first offer far lower than I know they want to end up at. They will tell me just do whatever you have to, to get to this point. Pretend to make demands, get angry, scream, cry, do whatever you need. But we must end at the predetermined point.

The West cannot accurately decipher Iran’s internal needs. We may never really know if they want a nuclear bomb or are developing nuclear capabilities for “peaceful means,” so negotiating without knowing their bottom line is disadvantageous to the West. Getting involved in Iranian politics is also self-defeating; this is an ancient and proud nation that does not follow a Western script. Let Rouhani do his job. Let him mollify factions and appease hardliners. Let him flatter the religious clerics and rally the remnants of the industrial sector and those in the bazaar. Let him consider the costs to Iranian power and progress of sanctions and the threat of a devastating preventive strike—or the bluff of one.

Once the date has been given and he is made to believe it is possible, the negotiations become a dumb show. The endless back and forth becomes a game for the masses and media. The shows of military force and continuous Iranian stop and start become theater. Talks that yield nothing are a clear signal to the West that Iran intends to build a bomb and is inviting the West to attack its facilities, that it is going for broke and does not want to compromise.

I do not see a downside to this negotiating tactic. If it makes the Iranians mad or angry, so be it. They already seem mad and angry at the world. Using this tactic will at least make them aware that if they misplay their hand, the consequences can be real and final. That empowers Rouhani in a way no other negotiating stance does.

The world may never know if this tactic is used. The ultimatum will be delivered in secret and Rouhani will surely keep it so. If there is any hope in solving the Iranian nuclear crisis, this strategy might be our last and best option.

About the Author
Jonathan Russo has been observing Israel and its policies since he first visited in 1966. He is a businessman in New York City.
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