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Will Iran play the nuclear ‘game’ with the Americans?

What if Iran played a game to push the Americans into accepting their conditions by taking a tough and non-negotiable position?

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

During the last few days before the expiry date of Iran’s interim nuclear deal, uncertainty clouded the air at the nuclear talks in Vienna.

The uncertainty came from Iran’s delegation giving foreign journalists mixed and confusing signals; it wasn’t clear whether Iran would continue the talks until July 20 or wrap up two days earlier on Friday.

I believe that the significance of these back and forth mixed signals and confusion, which must have upset the American delegation, can be translated into meaning Iran couldn’t make the decision to accept the U.S. conditions and reach the comprehensive deal or extend the talks and used the signals as a tool to pressure their American counterparts.

Last week, rumors spread among the journalists on the ground in Vienna suggesting Iran would leave the city two days before the official deadline. U.S. President Obama’s positive speeches later on and the news of Secretary of State Kerry meeting with Congress on Thursday relaxed Iranians a bit, according to people I have spoken with.

A murky future

While the U.S. is seeking a significant reduction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for a deal which would gradually lift sanctions, the negotiators didn’t disclose the exact differences preventing a comprehensive agreement being reached and also how this gap can be closed by an extension in the near future.

What if Iran played a game to push the Americans into accepting their conditions by taking a tough and non-negotiable position?

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

During the past six months, the modest sanctions relief has boosted Iran’s automotive industry, the second most active industry after oil and gas in the country. This was the first positive sign of the interim deal signed in Geneva last November between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany).
Intense negotiations

The significance of intense negotiations between Iran and the Western powers, especially the United States, helped the paralyzed economy including the auto industry which has improved according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which said that stability and prospects have improved in the country. According to the IMF report, which was published in February 2014, the economic situation in Iran “remains highly uncertain.” However, perhaps a fresh assessment would show more improvement in the auto, oil and gas sectors.

However long this extension may last, the case has been made for the continuation of Iran freezing its nuclear program in return of more sanctions relief. The possible scenario post July 20 is either Iran or the U.S., as the major negotiating parties, accept the other’s condition to reach the final agreement or they risk walking away from the talks which this is not what the U.S., Iran and Iran’s neighbor are wishing for.

President Obama on July 16 said that Iran has made significant efforts to fulfill its promise to scale back its nuclear program but still, “significant gaps” have remained.

In Iran, the public expectation was to hear that a deal had been reached by July 20, according to people I have spoken with. However, Iran’s lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif secured the extension and perhaps managed to make some anxious Iranians happy and also smooth the path for the upcoming meetings.

The question that needs to be asked is: what if Iran played a game to push the Americans into accepting their conditions by taking a tough and non-negotiable position? Stretching the time of the negotiations just allows for more opponents to get involved and makes the talks harder. But still, Zarif is to be commended for leading the talks and giving Iranians something to look forward to in the coming months.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 19, 2014.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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