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A Grand Bargain with Iran: A Feasible Idea?

By: Meir Javedanfar


Last week, The New America Foundation, a Washington DC based Think Tank hosted an event entitled “A Grand Bargain With Iran”.

The Keynote speakers were Flynt Leverett, who is a former National Security Council adviser on the Middle East, and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, who was a senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. They are now fellows at The New American Foundation. The underlying point of their presentation was that the time has finally arrived for the US to sit down with Iran and reach a broad diplomatic understanding, as part of what they have termed, “ A Grand Bargain”.

How would this work?

To kick things off, both sides would present the entirety of their demands (full list is presented in this article written by the presenters) .

In short, demands by the US would include the cessation of uranium enrichment and of any nuclear weapons related activity which may be taking place in Iran. Secondly, cessation of Iranian support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the softening of Tehran’s “ attitude ” towards a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lastly, Iran’s regional role and aspirations, including its posture toward Iraq and Afghanistan, must be addressed.

According to the Leveretts, what would be offered to Iran in return would be “to extend security assurances to the Islamic Republic and lift all unilateral and multilateral sanctions. Furthermore, the U.S. must acknowledge the Islamic Republic’s place in the regional and international order”.

Once the agenda between the two sides has been agreed upon, the two sides would sit down and negotiate, with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial outcome.

This is an original idea, as until today the US and Iran have not negotiated directly and publicly over such a broad range of issues.

Is there a precedence?

Yes, in the 1970s the US and China reached a similar deal by means of the the Shanghai Communiqué which laid the groundwork for a strategic understanding between the two nations.

It must also be mentioned that according to Flynt Leverett who was at the National Security Council at the time, in 2003, the Iranians tried to offer a grand bargain deal to the US, but it was rejected by the Bush Administration.

Is The Grand Bargain a feasible idea?

In theory, yes. In fact, under current circumstances, it could be a game changer. With the world unable to form a united diplomatic front to address Iran’s nuclear program, a US initiated agreement such as this, could be a powerful strategy to stop Iran’s march towards a nuclear bomb, while also addressing its support for terrorist groups.

How would Israel view such an initiative?According to Flynt Leverett, “Israelis are the most realistic people when it comes to Iran. They would check every line of such an agreement, at least three times over to make sure that there are no get out clauses which would enable Iran to break the agreement. If they believe that the agreement is solid, then they are likely to support it. If a watertight agreement can be found to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and to prevent Iran from lending support to extremist groups, then it is very likely that Jerusalem would back it”. This is one accurate observation.

The other is that many Israelis would not trust Iran , unless they themselves deal with Tehran directly, as suggested recently by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, in an oped in the Jerusalem Post . Although in theory Mr Halevy is correct, in reality it is difficult to see how Israel would qualify to sit at such a table. Iran has influence in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and so has the US . What bargaining chips does Israel have? There is also Ayatollah Khamenei’s refusal to recognize Israel, which makes such a scenario even more difficult to realize . Therefore letting the US represent Israel’s interest under such a deal, if and when it takes place, would probably be the best realistic option Jerusalem has.

Furthermore, one must not forget that that the first word here is “bargain”. People just don’t offer bargains, unless they absolutely have to. And Iran, judging by its recent behavior, doesn’t feel such a need. Just as the US made the mistake of not meeting Iran’s listed economic requirements in return for suspending uranium enrichment in 2005, Iran is ironically making the mistake of rejecting the recent 5+1 offer. This offer was very reasonable as it would have enabled both sides to begin taking confidence building measures necessary to move forward. Ayatollah Khamenei’s belligerence and unwillingness to suspend uranium enrichment in return for suspension of sanctions is the best indication that Iran is in no mood to offer any “bargains”.

If there is to be any silver lining to the recent worldwide economic meltdown it may be that with oil prices falling to new lows, Iran in the near future may be forced to look at the advantages of such an offer, if and when the US is ready to make it.

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One Person has left comments on this post

Oct 17, 2008 - 08:10:01
Raoul Heinrichs said:

The problem with the idea of a grand diplomatic bargain is that Iran seems to have calculated already that the terms of any agreement will be more favourable to it after it has acquired a nuclear capability.