The nuclear game: win-win extension for U.S. and Iran

Iranian and world powers leaders arrive for a family picture during their meeting in Vienna Nov. 24, 2014. (AFP)

After over a year of negotiations, which have crisscrossed the globe from Vienna, to Oman, and to New York, the negotiators (the P5+1:China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Islamic Republic) planned to extend the nuclear talks for another seven months in order to finalize the preliminary deal reached last year in Geneva. Accordingly, the nuclear negotiations will continue through the end of June.

Majid Rafizadeh

Majid Rafizadeh

The obscure objectives are to achieve a “headline” agreement by March 1 and seal the complete technical details of the headline agreement by 1 July.

Details and nuances of the nuclear talks, with regards to agreements and gaps, have yet to be released, but some diplomats, including UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, stated the repeatedly-heard phrase that “progress” has been made.

Unlike the interim nuclear deal, the extension appears to lack any clear key terms upon which prospective nuclear talks would be anchored in, or a final nuclear would be reached.

More fundamentally, the crucial dilemma to address is how is it possible to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal by the seven month extension while the last year of intense nuclear negotiations between the six world powers and the Islamic Republic had failed.

Obstacles will remain the same

Analytically speaking, the barriers will remain the same in the next few months. In other words, the Islamic Republic will continue making the argument that they would like the rapid lifting of economic sanctions to be carried out as quickly as possible.

Principally and realistically, the key decision maker in the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will not fundamentally alter his stance on his country’s nuclear ambitions in the next few months.

Majid Rafizadeh

Iran will continue holding the position that their demands for the following issues to be met: maintaining a specific number (tens of thousands of) fast-spinning centrifuge machines, Tehran should have the capacity to produce nuclear fuel in the future, and maintain specific level of enriching uranium. In the next few months, the Islamic Republic is not going to give up its capacity to produce plutonium which can be utilized for weapons at its heavy water reactor in the city of Arak. Iran is less likely to provide more evidence proving that it did not carry out secret tests on the development of atomic weapons in Parchin or other military complex. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency recently pointed out that the Islamic Republic continues to deny the IAEA access to sensitive military site which are suspected to be used for nuclear activities.

Principally and realistically, the key decision maker in the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will not fundamentally alter his stance on his country’s nuclear ambitions in the next few months.

As a result, overcoming the barriers will not be an easier task. It is idealistic to make an argument that a fundamental change in Iran’s position with respect to its demands on its nuclear program will occur. The Iranian leaders are less likely to alter their position fundamentally in the next few months.

A Win-Win Deal?

The key nuclear negotiator, the United States, formerly stated that extension is out of equation, nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the option of an extension a day before the Novemeber 24th deadline. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif welcomed the idea.

By the extension, both the Iran and the United States appear to achieve geopolitical, economic and geostrategic benefits.

On the one hand, the Islamic Republic will continue receiving $700 million per month in frozen assets during the extended seven month period. Secondly, Iran will further consolidate its economy through increased sale in oil, particularly to Asian countries, heightened business deals with some Western companies, regain the value of its currency, and enjoy the removed sanctions on some of its industries. As a result, Iran will attempt to address the economic challenges which were threatening the hold on power of the ruling politicians.

Third, the extension of the nuclear negotiations will ensure the Iranian leaders that the international community, specifically the West, will not make efforts in further isolating Iran and pressuring it economically or politically.

On the other hand, from the U.S. perspective, the Obama administration had much to lose if the final nuclear talks were marked as failure. President Obama did not desire to deal with the consequences of the nuclear negotiations’ failure. The Obama administration has always been reluctant to consider other stronger options against the Islamic Republic (such as ratcheting up economic and political sanctions, potential escalation of conflict in the already conflict-inflicted Middle East, pressuring Iran, carrying out military strikes against Tehran’s nuclear installations, etc) in case the nuclear talks failed.

Secondly, the United States and Iran both desire to maintain the improved relationship for their own geopolitical, economic and geo strategic interests. Third, the nuclear negotiations have coincided with the rise of the Islamic State. The Obama administration appears to be in need of the Islamic Republic to combat the Islamic State fighters. Last month President Obama secretly wrote a letter to Ayatolah Ali Khamenei pointing to the shared interests that two nations bear in the region.

Finally, by offering an extension for the nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration has avoided domestic criticism. Domestically speaking, if the nuclear talks would have been marked as a total failure, the Republicans would have strong argument to criticize the Obama administration for investing so much political capital on these negotiations, for being naïve and being deceived by Iranian leaders, releasing billions of dollars to the Iranian government, and letting Iranian leaders to buy time.

By extending the nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration can save face, add to its questionable Middle East achievements, and persist on making the argument that “progress” is being made and diplomacy works.

Majid Rafizadeh

By extending the nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration can save face, add to its questionable Middle East achievements, and persist on making the argument that “progress” is being made and diplomacy works.

In other words, both Iran and the United States appear to gain geopolitical, geostrategic, and economic interests from this extension while leaving many countries bewildered, and without ensuring the world or articulating a clear agenda on how a final nuclear deal would be more feasible in the next few months.


Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at

Rafizadeh is a regular political analyst and contributor for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few.

Last Update: 06:45 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45