U.S. Strategic Options towards Iran: Understanding the U.S.–Iranian Relations through Iranian Domestic Politics
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The ongoing nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran have made greater progress on more substantial issues than any previous talks. This report argues that Iran’s unprecedented willingness to negotiate is strongly influenced by two factors: a united P5+1 and more importantly, a convergence of interests among Iran’s domestic factions. While there has long been knowledge of the challenges posed by Iran’s often-competing factions, no other study pinpoints them as a primary variable in the nuclear negotiations. Based on 50 interviews with high-level Iran experts and government officials and independent research, our study provides a unique framework for understanding the dynamics of Iranian domestic politics and its impact on the efficacy of U.S. policies. This study considers three scenarios the U.S. could encounter on July 20, 2014, when the current Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) expires: the P5+1 and Iran could sign a comprehensive deal; another interim deal could be reached; or negotiations could break down. The common thread throughout these recommendations is that the U.S. must find a way to capitalize on the factional convergence and avoid undermining it. The U.S. should always negotiate with Iran as a unitary actor, rather than favor certain factions; avoid measures that prompt one faction to undercut another faction; and understand that while not unique in having domestic competition, Iran’s political factions have a stronger effect on the success of negotiations than many have realized. If a comprehensive agreement is reached, we recommend pursuing limited engagement that seeks to broaden cooperation with Iran by working on issues that interest all Iranian factions, while also having deterrent threats in place should Iran renege. In the case of another interim deal, we recommend that the U.S. embrace balanced diplomacy, which increases the level of positive and negative inducements meant to persuade Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement. This recommendation, which mimics current U.S. policy, should focus solely on nuclear issues, unlike the first scenario. If nuclear negotiations break down, we recommend coercive diplomacy that involves gradual pressure, ranging from increased sanctions to authorizing the use of force. The challenge here is credibly threatening Iran without alienating the other P5+1 members or pushing Iran’s factions to unite against the United States. In all future negotiations, the U.S. should capitalize on Iranian domestic convergences and engage Iran as a whole.
Abernathy, Jacob; Blanco, David; Kingsley, Marlee; Kramer, Michael; Lopacka, Karolina; Mauel, Heather; Peacock, Mike; Stotts, Katherine; Varela, Marques; Young, Krysten (2014). U.S. Strategic Options towards Iran: Understanding the U.S.–Iranian Relations through Iranian Domestic Politics. Available electronically from