What will happen if the Iranian nuclear negotiations fail? That’s the fascinating question examined in an article from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As Cornelius Adebahr writes:
The personal interactions, the politics, and the economics surrounding the deal show that on balance, Iran appears to be better positioned for a no-deal scenario than the West, in particular the U.S. government. If a deal is not reached, Tehran is ready to try to win the world over to its side in a war of words where the truth is hard to find. Self-righteous blustering will only backfire; instead, the transatlantic allies need to carefully manage the possible fallout from a failure of the negotiations. […]Yet in fact, the Iranians believe—rightly or wrongly—that they are in the stronger position and are able if need be to walk away from the talks. They see time as being on their side, not least because the rise of the self-declared Islamic State in neighboring Iraq has turned what they previously perceived as a Sunni-Shia struggle aimed at them into a Sunni-Sunni fight playing out in Arab countries around the region. […]Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has created a real win-win situation for himself.By repeatedly declaring publicly that he does not trust the Americans but will (graciously) give negotiations a chance, Khamenei has hedged his bets for either success or failure. Like many hawks in Washington, he would feel vindicated by failure, and he would benefit from Rouhani needing to align with him even more closely. He has already managed to turn Rouhani’s election into a signal of popular support for the regime, claiming that a victory for a revolutionary of 1979 was a triumph for the Islamic Republic.
The whole piece is well worth a read. If Iran believes that it can succeed with or without a deal, then a deal seems less likely. Although Rouhani has been free to pursue “moderate” negotiations without interference from the hardliners, a successful deal could trigger a cascade of social and political demands and thereby put the regime itself at risk.That calculus is probably sound—so long as no one launches a military strike against Iran. As Gary Samore discussed in our TAI podcast yesterday, the military option is still on the table but is made far less likely by Iran’s posturing. Iran is, and will remain, a threshold nuclear state, but it hasn’t made any sudden movements that would provoke a preemptive strike. Regardless of whether there is a deal or not, the question still remains whether the United States or regional powers like Israel and Saudi Arabia will tolerate Iran as a nation perpetually on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon.