The literature on Iranian negotiation techniques

I found this 2004 piece (pdf) by Shmuel Bar.  It has numerous interesting and detailed points, though I do not think it can be considered objective.  Here is one excerpt:

Iranian negotiators are methodical and have demonstrated a high level of preparations and a detailed and legalistic attitude. On the other hand, their communication tends to be extremely high-context; ambiguous, allusive and indirect not only in the choice of words utilized, but in the dependence of the interpretation of the message on the context in which it is transmitted: non-verbal clues, staging and setting of the act of communication, and the choice of the bearer of the message. Procrastination is another key characteristic of Iranian negotiation techniques. This stands in sharp contrast to American style communication (Get to the point/Where’s the beef?/ time is money!) which places a high value on using lowest common denominator language in order to ensure maximum and effective mutual understanding of the respective intents of both sides. This tendency has been explained by an aversion to an assumption that the longer the negotiations last, the greater a chance that things can change in his favor and an intrinsic Shiite belief in the virtue of patience.

Dissimulation, high-level disinformation and manipulation are widely acceptable.

…one may paraphrase Marshall McLuhan in saying that in Iran frequently “the messenger is the message.”

…One of the characteristic traits of Iranian negotiation techniques is that the haggling goes on even after an agreement is struck.

I suppose we’ll see how it goes.


Herodotus said something vaguely similar about Persian negotiating techniques.

Here's a case study in American negotiating techniques.

Try this instead:

We decide our choices, God decides the outcome of our choices

How much of this is contingent on the effectiveness of the local judiciary?

What does the US really have to lose?

Either the Iranians slow their program or they don't. If the neg's fail, the program continues. If they succeed, it slows. If it appears to succeed but actually slows, it continues.

Thus it seems a no-brainer to negotiate, for the US.

Sadly, a lot of things in that document remind me of Indian business negotiations too.

Happens in Ukraine too ..
Perhaps, the interesting cultural question isnt the one raised here - negotiations are couched in high context communication in iran, ukraine, china and india.
The really interesting question is, why did some societies move away from this norm?!

I think it depends on what you want to gain from negotiations. I suspect the Iranians want a bomb and don't want sanctions. This strategy seems like it would help. I too have dealt with businesses that negotiate this way, but they too are usually after something that they would not. Admit to me.

The thing is that the Iranian diplomats are very far from being idiots, and their culture is quite sophisticated about this sort of thing. I think Americans are dilletantes at diplomacy, if we really cared we would use force on any power that lacked atomic weapons, currently the US government just does not care if Iran gets those atomic weapons because they have already convinced themselves it won't be too bad. I pray to God they are correct, but I strongly suspect they are wrong.

I agree with @Prasad that this is more a cultural thing. In the Indian context I've encountered this sort of negotiation right from a cheap $20 transaction to a expensive engineering equipment contract.

Why would Iran getting nuclear weapons be any worse than Pakistan, who the Canadians and Chinese helped get them? In fact, the GDP is almost double the GDP of Pakistan, which equals that of a smaller American city like say Cleveland. Both of course are failed states no more worthy than North Korea of having such weapons.

Because of Iran gets nuclear weapons then both Pakistan and Iran will have nuclear weapons. That's what makes it worse than Pakistan having nuclear weapons and Iran not having nuclear weapons.

Turkey and Egypt will now begin "peaceful nuclear programs". Maybe even Saudi Arabia.

It will be a regional arms race -but the nihiliberals will pretend that it isn't happening.

Let's see if Tyler would ever post a study on the uniquely Jewish nature of Israeli negotiations.

Considering how well Ben-Gurion and company were able to keep Kennedy in the dark concerning Dimona and how proficient they were at pulling the wool over the eyes of American nuclear inspectors, I suspect they'd have something to teach the Iranians.

Do they negotiate?

> I suspect they’d have something to teach the Iranians.

Yeah, don't sign the NPT.

Or don't let the CIA (re-)install a monarchy. 'The nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program.[1] The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran's nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.'

Even more amusing, when the Iranians made the claim that they needed nuclear power for the future, it wasn't considered a smokescreen - back in the 1970s, that is. 'The Shah approved plans to construct, with U.S. help, up to 23 nuclear power stations by 2000.[57] In March 1974, the Shah envisioned a time when the world's oil supply would run out, and declared, "Petroleum is a noble material, much too valuable to burn ... We envision producing, as soon as possible, 23,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear plants."'

Is there an actual point here?

Shah didn't need nuclear weapons, he was under protection of US arsenal. Plus US had influence over him.

If the infrastructure from 1979 was key in current weapons development, they sure took their time.

Apparently the fact that the CIA was involved in the coup against Mossadegh in 1953 justifies any and all crimes by the Iranian government since 1979. I'm sure that if this situation goes hot and millions are dead, people like Prior will still maintain it's somehow the US's fault, because everything is the US's fault.

The trouble with this explanation is that it bestows sort-of supernatural powers over American agencies, while completely disregarding the internal motivations, plans and powers of the other party. This is similar to the classical "soft bigotry of low expectations" so ubiquitious in the politically correct crowd. In that concept of the world, the aggrieved party just sort-of viscerally reacts to grievances and has no agency on its own.

Iran is at least 2500 years old, with remarkable continuity, and it used to be an extensive empire. Even today about half of Iranians belong to subjugated minorities and tribes. I perfectly believe that the current Iranian administration is capable of using the Mossadegh coup to whip up sentiments in street mobs, but I strongly doubt that it would really have any influence on decision-making on the upper levels, save for the pragmatical concerns only.

It's amazing how truth can be anti-Semitic in the minds of the Israeli first fundamentalists. But, as always, they will continue to over reach and eventually there will be hell to pay. The great thing is that there is less and less fear of being called anti-Semitic, except by those in the electronic and print media, who have the choice of towing the line and being rich and famous, or telling the truth and being unemployed and obscure. However, the internet has rendered the court media irrelevant and they no longer control the narrative. The truth of Israeli/ AIPAC control over American foreign policy is no secret and when enough people tire of sacrificing the lives of their children and their financial security to satisfy Israeli bloodlust and territorial expansion, the control of America's destiny will return to the American people who will insist on it.

"Israeli bloodlust and territorial expansion" lol

How many square miles has Israel lost in the last 45 years?

Why does this sound like conservative Republicans on health reform for my entire memory beginning in the 60s?

Or conservatives on civil rights?

Sure, liberals, Democrats never consider any deal final because we can never agree on the optimal agreement, but just about anything is better than no decision by promising a decision if only if this new condition is met. If no action is the decision you want, then take ownership on the no action decision.

And by the way. Iran has never been passive in the face of US refusal to either negotiate or to decide, but their actions have furthered their agenda better in the past 35 years than the US actions have. Of course, the same is true when it comes to Castro v US.

If you want to go a bit deeper, a retired US diplomat wrote a book on negotiating with Iran:
If you want to go much deeper, William Beeman's work on face-to-face communication in Iran is interesting:
Much of this work tries to analyze the role of taarof in intercultural interaction:

"an intrinsic Shiite belief in the virtue of patience"???

Well, I guess that's not quite as bad as some old State Department analysis (recently quoted approvingly by Elliott Abrams) that locates Iranian perfidy in "underlying cultural and psychological qualities" of Persians, or Wendy Sherman's recent statement that deception is part of Iranians' DNA.

'Wendy Sherman’s recent statement that deception is part of Iranians’ DNA.'

Like that deception involving Iran Air Flight 655 - talk about sneaky. The U.S. was so deceived by a commercial airliner flying in Iranian airspace over Iran's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf on its usual flight path, that we shot it down. As a matter of fact, the Iranians were so sneaky as to be acting this way - 'The airliner was transmitting the correct transponder "squawk" code typical of a civilian aircraft and maintained English-speaking radio contact with appropriate air traffic control facilities.'

And following typical American culture practice, undoubtedly based on Christianity, the U.S. government has never apologized or acknowledged any wrongdoing in killing 290 people.

This anecdotal evidence has totally convinced me. +1

Why do you think it is that Americans are so dismissive of this stuff? In almost all foreign dealings we label the other side as evil (re: axis of) or irrational as if these countries shouldn't fear us or don't have legitimate grievances.

Is it simply we choose not to remember anything that happened more than 10 minutes ago? A "we good, they bad" nationalist delusion?

“we good, they bad”

Show me a nation which does not operate so.

Some intellectual circles, in order to distinguish themselves from the street mob, switch into “they good, we bad”, which is quite ugly, eerily similar to human obsessive neurosis.

More nuanced views are extremely rare and unpopular.

"They good, we bad" is exactly as ugly as "we good, they bad". And if you think 'more nuanced views' are extremely rare, perhaps that is only because you travel in dumb circles. Most of /my/ friends think something like "both bad, let's target specific improvements". I think you are failing the ideological Turing test here.

What exactly are we negotiating?

Iran wants the bomb.

Sanctions and cyber attacks slow their progress to the bomb.

Negotiations relax sanctions - and domestic pressure on the regime - and speed progress to the bomb.

Where's the upside for us?

I can see the downside: Iran gets yet more bellicose, it's proxy terror groups get a nuclear umbrella, the Arab neighbors pursue their own bomb and Israel is forced into the difficult decision of either trust the ayatollahs to not follow through on their repeated vows to destroy Israel, or undertake an extremely dangerous attack on Tehran.

Also to consider that the main US impetus for a deal is the Kerry-Obama nexus of stupidity and one despairs

Why would you think that economic sanctions slow bomb progress? Find such a statement pretty hard to believe.

Nuclear sanctions (attempting to limit nuclear materiel and equipment), yes. Economic sanctions of the type used against Iran thus far? A stretch. To put it mildly.

I think they damage Iranian society and make things unpleasant for the regime. They also make it more difficult to get around targeted sanctions. I think they certainly don't speed up bomb development.

Sanctions increase domestic pressure on the regime, as was seen with the near revolution a few years ago.

Today, Iran received immediate relief from sanctions, which gives it more domestic stability while pursuing the bomb.

US foreign policy has left broken glass from Libya to Egypt to Syria. Now the fools have bumbled into Iran and someone down the road will have to clean up a dangerous mess.

It's worked really well in Cuba.

Seriously, the revolution may have succeeded in the absence of sanctions; these sanctions probably strengthen the conservatives' hand within Iran. It gives them an external enemy to funnel domestic anger at.

Attributing this sort of thing to Shiism is pretty ridiculous. These are common near Eastern and South Asian cultural traits, and they are very effective techniques. Any familarity with ancient pagan Persia would suggest the same thing. Heck look at Armenian negotiating tactics over Nagorno Karabakh, I have heard much frustration over this, but it works.

This whole episode has exposed how foreign interests -- most of whom are connected closely to banking interests and of course the MIC -- dictate US foreign policy. I say, let these guys work it out themselves. It's not our fight, it's not our problem. Iran is not going to nuke the US, and it is not even going to nuke Israel. Nuclear weapons are a deterrent to invasion, not an offensive weapon (unless you desire your country to be reduced to radioactive rubble). Iran's threat is its desire to use non-dollar currency for oil, which threatens the banking cartel, including the Fed. But try telling that to your average American who has forgotten that the US is the only country on Earth that actually used nuclear weapons offensively back before anyone else had them.

A thought experiment. Iran produces nukes. Later, the theocracy inevitably starts to crumble and the theocrats control the nukes.

Do they hand them over to the new government, use them in an explosive burst of martyrdom on secret them to Hezbollah for safekeeping?

You have no idea what will happen because this is new territory for everyone. Well, except for Kerry who is simply treading the same path of idiocy and self aggrandizement he's always trodden.

Pakistan is a couple of armored battalions away from tribalist anarchy and they have nukes as does somewhat less dysfunctional India.

I appreciate your argument because the whole region is one of the 80 IQ single-moms of the world, but in practice nukes seem to stabilize relations between states.

OTOH, as the nuclear powers start unraveling from the margins inward, there's an argument for dismantling the entire global nuclear arsenal.

I agree. The only argument I can come up with against that is that it's totally impossible that we would (a) get them all and (b) keep the "bad" guys from ever making them again.

The 80 IQ quote is not far from the mark: as shown in this graphic and literature:

Both Iran and Pakistan citizens have the same average IQ of 84, which btw is close to the definition of functional retardation at 80 and much lower than the west and China which averages 100, and Israel at 95.

The mob has rarely had any influence on politics in the Middle and Far East in history; the regimes are inheritors of a long tradition of despotism. The shepherds from the border hills do not get to decide about war and weapon deployment.

The elites in power do, and I would not think that they are any less intelligent than Western ones. Maybe the other way round; they definitely seem to be cunning enough to avoid the fate of Hussein or Qaddafi for decades.

Also, Persians as such were never regarded as stupid by their historical enemies. The place has been a region-wide center of culture and knowledge for millenia.

You are obviously a knowledgeable person on such matters.

The mob has rarely had any influence on politics in the Middle and Far East in history.

The mob is exerting an awful lot of influence in Syria and Libya, as they did in Iran in 1979.

The Middle East has had a significant brain drain for a number of decades. That has to have played some role in the current situation.

Cynthia, I will wager that you never read the entirety of Eisenhower's farewell address.

"One of the characteristic traits of Iranian negotiation techniques is that the haggling goes on even after an agreement is struck."

Sounds just like Greece and the Euro. Or everything Euro while we are at it.
So I guess this kind of negotiating (which seems to me to be the older kind) is our future.

The Western culture of negotiation weakens considerably after crossing the Danube (in the Balkans) and vanishes entirely in the region around Caucasus. Beyond that lies the East about which Rudyard Kipling once wrote the famous line that the twain shall never meet.

The entire concept of truth / falsehood / treaty etc. is completely different there.

Marian says: "The entire concept of truth / falsehood / treaty etc. is completely different there [ the East]"I belong to the "East" and I believe in the superiority of western culture. But in negotiations Americans can be very self-serving

The Iranians are going to develop nuclear weapons if that is what they want, and if the US is unwilling to use force to stop it. I think the US is never going to use force to stop it, so the government is negotiating to make it look like they are doing something, and to try to forestall the Israelis from using force.

We are just going to have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, and probably a few other nuclear-armed Persian Gulf nations, too.

the government is negotiating to make it look like they are doing something

Yes that seems to be about the only reason.

Well, then this news report is right up your alley -

'Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.

While the kingdom's quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran's atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.'

At least Saudi Arabia is our ally, and signed various non-proliferation treaties, so I'm sure we won't be embargoing any Saudi oil deliveries any time soon. Actually, considering our relationship to Saudi Arabia, we will probably be more than willing to sell the House of Saud whatever it needs to feel secure - just like the Pakistanis are apparently willing to do also.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn the Saudis already have the capacity to produce, or even deploy such weapons today.

Nations with such capability are referred to as "de facto nuclear states." The prime example being Japan - able to deploy nuclear weapons within months if desired, but in compliance with non proliferation treaties in the meantime.

Once (if?) Iran gets nukes, we'll likely see a lot of proliferation in the region. Not only Saudi Arabia, but then Iraq (good job GWB!), Turkey, and then possibly even Egypt.

Saudi Arabia's biggest fear, like most Arab states, is its own people. Wahabists and the ruling monarchy have a tenuous truce. Saddam, bin Laden, and Iran were also threats. This is why they are our allies.

Sweet Jesus! All this highfalutin babble just means the Iranians are playing the same game the North Koreans did for decades, and likely with the same results. Negotiations will get a lot harder after they detonate a nuclear weapon.

We should have invaded in 2004 when we had massive armies on each of its borders.

Iran is no Iraq, not to mention the US is home to a lot of Iranians who maintain ties with the motherland.

Incidentally, that's the part about immigration I don't see debated much. It will be pretty awful when the US goes to war against some place and finds lots of US citizens answer the government's call to service by setting off bombs against the Great Satan on its own soil. Or when ancient Sunni-Shia, Arab-Israeli conflicts start playing out here.

Most Iranians living in the US left Iran for a reason. That reason is not to work as sleepers for three decades.

Many parallels with Japanese techniques -- especially the interminable length of meetings (wearing you down), obfuscation via minute detail, high level agreement on sentiment, lower level of performance commitment relative to criteria as perceived by partner. "We will do our best . . ."

Germans -- especially engineers -- are pretty good wearing one down with detail too.

Many parallels with Japanese techniques — especially the interminable length of meetings (wearing you down), obfuscation via minute detail, high level agreement on sentiment, lower level of performance commitment relative to criteria as perceived by partner. “We will do our best . . .

When negotiating with Japanese you can take them out and get them drunk, and then they often become much more flexible.

That probably doesn't work in Iran.

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