A Very Strange Way to Negotiate

A Very Strange Way to Negotiate

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Diplomacy is a craft which requires not only an understanding of the facts but also the intelligence and ability to understand how to negotiate. Diplomacy, in general, like card playing requires an ability to understand the rules of the game. It also demands that the diplomats—especially when dealing in the Middle East—know how to play one’s cards and/or bluff. Since Friday the President has demonstrated with respect to dealing with Iran a total lack of understanding of the art of diplomacy.

The President has searched painstakingly for several years to try to find a formula to control the growth and minimize the threat posed by the current and potential Iranian nuclear weapons program. The U.N./U.S. sanctions program led to serious negotiations which in turn produced the preliminary agreement which hopefully can be finalized at the end of June. The problem is that there are undoubtedly some extremely hard and tough negotiations ahead to bring the agreement to a conclusion.  If that is the case and if sanctions—even increased sanctions–must always be on the negotiating table, why was the President signaling on Friday, in almost a dismissive manner, the possibility of future sanctions. Negotiations can fail even at the eleventh hour and adversaries need to comprehend that and not assume all of Washington’s talk is pure blather.

Similarly, the President’s dismissal of Russia’s announced final delivery of the S-300 anti-missile system to Iran was counter to many previous U.S. pronouncements on this sale and comes right in the middle of the final stages of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. While it is a defensive system there seems to be no serious sense in the Obama White House as to how to conduct foreign relations or that this sale now is gift to Iran and a slap at the other P5+1 negotiators.

One would hope that at least at Foggy Bottom there is considerable head scratching or even screaming about the President’s inability to conduct effective diplomacy.  He has become so caught up in making this deal with Iran work—as he succeeded with Cuba—that he is totally forgetting how to play his cards; especially when he needs to understand that his opponents in the Middle East are not poker or bridge players but backgammon sharks.

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