Obama and Khamenei Must Compromise

De-escalation of Iranian nuclear activities must be accompanied with a de-escalation of sanctions


Obama and Khamenei Must Compromise
by Trita Parsi

If President Barack Obama and Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei do not compromise at the upcoming nuclear talks next Saturday, the region will -- in the words of a diplomat involved in the matter -- head towards "total war." For the sake of world peace, both sides must compromise.

Yet, there are some indications that the next round of talks may differ little from previous failed discussions. Driven by limited political maneuverability at home, domestic pressure not to compromise, and a perception of strength that lures the parties to believe they can force on the other a fait accompli, the talks have often been about imposing terms of capitulation on the other.

It has never succeeded.

The White House is going into the talks with extensive demands. Iran must cease production of 20% enriched uranium, cease all activities at the underground Fordo facility and give up its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.

From a non-proliferation perspective, these are reasonable demands. Iran has said that it would only enrich as much 20% uranium that it needs to produce fuel pads for its Tehran Research Reactor. If the West would provide Iran with the fuel pads, the White House reasons, Iran would have no reason to continue enriching at this level nor would it need its stockpile. And since Iran planned to use Fordo for enrichment at this level, demanding that those plans be set aside also seem reasonable.

If Iran would agree to this, the US's current conviction that Iran cannot dash for a bomb without getting caught would persist. Iran would need about a year to build a bomb, but would get caught within 30-60 days if it tried to build one, thanks to the current level of inspections. Iran's activities at Fordo and its growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, however, reduces Iran's dash-out time and it could make it more difficult for the inspectors to catch any Iranian foul play. This is why the White House's focus is on Fordo and Iran's enrichment at 20%, and why Khamenei should agree to compromise.

What remains unclear, however, is what Obama is willing to put on the table. Thus far, White House officials have only indicated that Iran would be given fuel pads to produce medical isotopes and a promise not to impose new UN sanctions on Tehran.

This package is a non-starter to most observers - including to other P5+1 diplomats. The problem is not necessarily the demands, but the imbalance between what is demanded and what is offered.

A senior US official told me in an interview for my book A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012), that the US tried very hard to turn the October 2009 talks into a win-win. "Not because we wanted to do Iran a favor," he said, "but because there was no other way to get a deal."

There still isn't another way to get a deal.

By June, European oil sanctions will kick in. And the US is intensifying its campaign to strong-arm other states to cut oil imports from Iran. It appears highly unlikely that Iran would agree to give considerable concessions in return for a halt to new UN sanctions while other more biting sanctions continue to be added.

It seems unavoidable that any de-escalation of Iranian nuclear activities must be accompanied with a de-escalation of sanctions in order for a deal to be struck.

Obama's challenge is that there is almost no political space for lifting some of the existing US sanctions. Since Congress has imposed most US sanctions, Congress must also approve any changes to them. Last time Obama took a fight with Congress over Iran sanctions, he lost the Senate vote with 100-0. He is not going to pick another fight over this issue with Congress in a middle of his re-election bid.

Greater flexibility may exist in the EU and Asia. But as time passes, the less valuable the promise of lifting sanctions will become. For instance, the offer of Asian powers to reverse their cuts in Iranian oil imports only carries credibility for a few more months. Once the Asian refineries pay the cost of shifting away from Iranian oil, they are unlikely to double that cost by shifting back to Iranian oil. At that point, in the words of an Asian diplomat, the Asian powers "will lose their leverage."

Herein lies the contradiction of coercive diplomacy (the dual-track approach) combined with phased negotiations. Coercive diplomacy dictates that pressure must be put on the other side for it to compromise. The incentive offered to the targeted state to concede is an easing of the pressure once it ceases its objectionable policies.

In a phased approach, in which the deal is separated into several different steps, a contradiction emerges if the pressured state actually complies. On the one hand, a change of behavior should be rewarded with a reduction of pressure. On the other hand, additional pressure is deemed necessary in order to coerce the sanctioned state to continue to compromise for the ensuing steps in the phased approach.

This contradiction risks collapsing the talks because the sanctioned state will likely only accept that its concessions are met with additional pressure if it so weak that it has no choice but to accept capitulation.

There is a risk that Obama's silence on the incentives side is motivated by the logic of the phased approach, that is, demands will be made throughout the talks but real incentives will only be offered in the final phase. But there is also a chance that the silence is a calculated move. While demands can be leaked to the US media, incentives will only be presented at the negotiating table once a diplomatic process has been put in place.

So far, both sides have shown a greater willingness to take a risk for escalation than a risk for peacemaking. Both sides believe that only the other party is guilty of this lack of courage. For war to be avoided, both sides need to look themselves in the mirror.

First published in HuffingtonPost.com.

Trita Parsi is president of National Iranian American Council and author of the newly released book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012).


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TP not real Iranian: Can't

by vildemose on

TP not real Iranian: Can't understand that Iranian ...

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

How true..that is Trita's real problem. He does not get the Iranian history and culture because he grew up in Sweden. 

A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


must be getting hot

by shushtari on

in parsi's HQs!!

they feel the noose tightening and soon their checks from akhoonds will dry up with the sanctions kicking in.


he, being the slick lobbyist, tries feebly to present a 'fair' assessment by giving a hint of criticism of the mullahs


I have a better suggestion parsi- why don't you, khamenei and the rest of your crew take all the stolen money and move to chernobyl- and retire there??!!!

let iran get it's true democray, THEN, we will sit down and legitimize our true, representative govt!

until then, quit yapping 


For information

by Shemirani on

#Court throws out IRI Lobbyist, Trita Parsi and NIAC Defamation Experts //www.courthousenews.com/2012/04/04/45323.htm

My Name Is Borat

Stockholm Syndrome

by My Name Is Borat on

Trita, you should know about Stockholm Syndrome. Isn't that where your family went because of this regime? Isn't Sweden where you spent your childhood because of the IR?

So why on earth are you in bed with these criminals?

You, like so many others in the diaspora, including myself, were to one degree or another "thrown out" of our homeland by a group of murdering thieves who are traitors to our country.

What will it take for you to finally realize that you cannot compromise with these animals?

How many more of our countrymen need to be arrested, jailed, tortured, and killed for it to finally get through to you that when it comes to Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the rest of the regime that the words and the concepts of things like compromise, justice, fairness, due process, equality, negotiation, and peace, among others, simply do not exist in either their vocabulary or their mindset?

How do you sleep?


Shazde Asdola Mirza

TP not real Iranian: Can't understand that Iranian ...

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

... politicians have always been unable to Compremise. Like most other backward yet arrogant people; we are only given to Capitulation, under a greater force.

If you don't believe me; either go drive for a day in Tehran, or read our 20th century history!


Compromise from IRI, LOL

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

USA loves extremists, they are just busy trying to replace the ones in power with ones they can contain.


Compromise, compromise, compromise

by Simorgh5555 on

Yes, let's cut a deal between the Terrorist IR and the USA. The terror regime will enrich uranium up to 20 percent and maintain its evil grip in power. The US will continue to buy oil at rock bottom prices and both powers will eventually settle the dispute and bury the hatchet. 

....But wait!  

What about the Iranian people? Not one word about the Iranian people and addressing the deteriorating human rights condition, Trita? What about the several hundred executions last year? What about the hundreds of political prisoners rotting away in jail.

Screw them. Make peace with the IR Terrorist regime and screw the Iranian people. This is Trita Parsi's way. 

Trita Parsi your treachery will not go unpunished. Your meetings with Ambassador Zarin and your schmoozing with representatives of a murderous insane regime will not go un-punished. There will be a trial, Trita, and you will answer for your crimes to the Iranian people who you have brazenly betrayed.  



Nukes are just a pretext!

by hass on

Trita Parsi surprisingly makes the mistake of assuming that the conflict has something to do with Iran's nuclear program, when in fact that is just a fake US pretext, just as "WMDs in Iraq" was a pretext. Otherwise, the Iranian side has repeatedly put forth significant compromise offers that the US simply ignored.

 IAEA head ElBaradei:

 “They weren’t interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but regime change – by any means necessary.”


A sound analysis, though no feasible solution ahead....

by Bavafa on

And while this article deals and reviews option only for the up coming negotiation, a long term solution is still missing and not in sight


Two main issues that need to be resolved:


  •       Long term/permanent suspension of enrichment in Iran which has been cited by Israel as a condition for not attacking Iran (if that is not warmongering I don’t know what it is) 
  •      Nuclear free middle east, which those countries currently in possession of nuclear arm must come clean and open their facilities for the inspection to take place.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


Republican جمهوریخواه

"Airtight sanction till the fall of IRR"

by Republican جمهوریخواه on

.......Sanctions, airtight or leaky won't fell IRI.............they will only tilt it more towards Russia and China.................A military attack will unify the nation around the regime.......................The only, I mean the one and only way out, is the American diplomatic initiative void of Israeli suicidal paranoia.


 LOL... A state of

by vildemose on


A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


Airtight sanction till the fall of IRR

by Fred on

The Islamist Rapist Republic (IRR) has proven through its deeds to be untrustworthy.

Sanctions have to be tightened to the point when the Islamist Rapists say uncle, pack up and leave Iranians to determine their own future.

Anything less than that, as this lifetime president of NIAC Lobby proposes, would translate into giving IRR second life to continue terrorizing Iran and the entire free world.