The Duck of Minerva

Iran negotiations

7 June 2007

Over the past two and a half years, I have been contacted periodically by an Iranian journalist for Fars News Agency who identifies himself (herself?) as Kia Kojouri (or maybe Kojoury).

Note that the “informational materials” exemption to the U.S. embargo on Iran makes these kinds of exchanges perfectly legal. A few years ago, scholars circulated warnings about government interpretations of the sanctions law that made some rather ordinary intellectual activites illegal when involving Iranians. Later, however, that narrow interpretation was reversed.

In any event, kia most recently asked for my take on the U.S.-Iranian negotiations. This is what I wrote:

The U.S. appears to be genuinely interested in working with Iran on the resolution of some common concerns, such as instability in Iraq. It is not yet clear if the two sides can arrive at any kind of meaningful accommodation, partly because so many issues are NOT on the table. The limited agenda drastically limits the possibility for resolving many issues and means that so-called “linkage” bargaining strategies cannot readily be employed.

That said, the parties could at any time decide to begin broader negotiations around a large set of issues: Iran’s nuclear program, trade (WTO admission), economic sanctions, regional stability, etc. The Bush administration has a history of bargaining by ultimatum: requiring other states to do something dramatic before the U.S. will seriously consider improved relations. For the most part, that sort of bargaining has not worked. The administration claims it was successful in the case of Libya.

However, the recent negotiations about North Korea’s nuclear program suggest that the Bush administration might be willing to bargain without ultimatums. I do not know how successful such negotiations would be with Iran, but it would be in the world’s interest if the parties pursued wide-ranging talks.

I have no idea whether any of this will appear on the Fars website.