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Belfer Center Scholars Consider Potential Effects of A Failure of Negotiations with Iran

Kerry Walking Away from Podium

What could happen if the Iranian nuclear talks fail?

"The alternative that the prime minister offers is no deal, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program, without us having any insight into what they’re doing, and without constraint."
-President Barack Obama, March 3rd, 2015

Along with President Obama, four members of the Belfer Center's Iran Working Group--Graham Allison, Nader Habibi, Payam Mohseni, and William Tobey, answer the vital question of what scenarios are possible if the negotiations fail, both sides declare diplomacy finished, and the commitments from the interim Joint Plan of Action are voided. 

Imagining Russia, Iran, and the United States if the Nuclear Talks Fail

Alexei ArbatovAlexei Arbatov assess the potential developments in Russian, Iranian, and American relations should the nuclear negotiations break down. He argues that further Russian cooperation on coercing Iran is not likely when Russia and the West remain locked in a standoff over Ukraine, and suggests that Russia and Iran may move to build closer relations in the future.

On Iran: Reject Bibi's False Dichotomy

Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in Foreign Policy that the dichotomy between a "good deal" and a "bad deal" as presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an inaccurate way to assess the Iranian nuclear negotiations. He argues that Iran has both been able to drastically shrink the "break out" time it will take to develop enough uranium for a nuclear weapon, and that Iran has been able to develop the knowledge and industrial base that give it an indestructible capacity to produce a nuclear weapon if it makes the decision to do so. The only option at this point, in his assessment, is for the United States and its allies to convince the Iranian leadership that they will not be able to gain an exercisable nuclear weapons option. If the Prime Minister wants to persuade Americans that even if the Obama Administration succeeds in extracting from Tehran a deal that meets the West’s essential objectives, Congress should reject that as a “bad deal,” he must propose a specific, feasible alternative, Allison argues.

Belfer Iran Brief – US “fully prepared” to walk away from talks as “significant gaps” remain, and other news

Belfer Iran BriefUS Secretary of State John Kerry said the US will leave talks if negotiations don’t yield more progress, the Iranian government again lowered its prediction for future oil revenues, and other news in this week’s Belfer Iran Brief, covering …

Quandaries of Emulation

Professor Roy MottahedahRoy Mottahadeh, Gurney Professor of Islamic History at Harvard University, highlights a previously little understood dynamic: the importance of Shia religious leaders in influencing the religious, political, and social views of their followers. In The Quandaries of Emulation, Professor Roy Mottahedeh traces the development of Shia religious leaders, specifically marja al-taqlids, or "sources of emulation," and the bases of their influence within the Shia community.

Belfer Iran Brief: March 24 deadline solidifies, Khamenei agrees that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and other news

Belfer Iran BriefIranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US President Barack Obama all stated that negotiations between the West and Iran should not continue past March 24 if substantial progress is not made in the meantime, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that he agrees with Obama that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and other news in this week’s Belfer Iran Brief, covering February 3 to February 9, 2015.

Belfer Iran Brief — Rouhani accuses hardliners of “sabotage” and other news

Belfer Iran BriefPresident Hassan Rouhani accused hardliners of trying to “sabotage” the national interest, “as if they are cheering on the rival team,” leader of Friday prayers in Tehran said Iranians should be able to endure eating one meal per day in the name of a “resistance economy,” and more in this week’s edition of the Belfer Iran Brief, covering January 24 to February 2, 2015.

Assessing the new Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation (Updated)

Henry RomeHenry Rome analyzes the newly drafted Kirk-Menendez legislation and finds the key differences between the current bill and its prior incarnation in the 113th Congress. He notes that the new bill contains significant differences specifically in regards to the suspension of sanctions, staggered implementation of new sanctions in the event of a failure of negotiations, and in the sense of Congress section.

Belfer Iran Brief – “Our ideals are not bound to centrifuges,” assessing the Congressional debate and other news

Belfer Iran BriefIranian President Hassan Rouhani announced he may put key national issues to a public vote, Iran Matters breaks down versions of Congressional legislation on Iran and more in this holiday edition of the Belfer Iran Brief, covering December 24, 2014 to January 12, 2015.

Belfer Iran Brief – Nuclear deal and rapprochement, Cuba comparisons and other news

Belfer Iran BriefA nuclear deal will not lead to rapprochement between Iran and the U.S., according to senior Iranian security official, Iranian newspapers see renewed U.S.-Cuba relation as evidence that sanctions fail, and more in this week’s Belfer Iran Brief, covering December 16-22. Note: Belfer Iran Brief will return in January 2015.

Give Iran talks the Chance to Succeed

Greg RosenbaumGreg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, argues in the Times of Israel that the nuclear negotiations with Iran have been very successful in multiple areas, and should be allowed to continue. He points to the specific concessions that have been made by Iran, including the reduction of Iran's 20% enriched uranium stockpiles to 0 kilograms, and the freezing of construction at the Arak reactor, as reasons to believe in the prospects of the negotiations, and urges policymakers to refrain from giving Iran excuses to walk away from the negotiations before a deal is concluded.

The Fool’s Errand for a Perfect Deal with Iran

Sven-Eric FikenscherRobert ReardonSven-Eric FikenscherResearch Fellow with the International Security and Managing the Atom Programs at the Belfer Center, and Robert ReardonAssistant Professor of Political Science at the School of Public and International Affairs, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, write in The Washington Quarterly that aiming for a final comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran may be unfeasible, but this does not mean that the P5+1 should cease the negotiations. They propose that the US seek incremental progress on issues of concern, in order to build trust with Iran and lead to greater breakthroughs on sticking points such as number of centrifuges and possible military dimensions. 

Expanding joint plan with Iran on uranium is best course for U.S.

Sven-Eric FikenscherSven-Eric Fikenscher, Research Fellow with the International Security and Managing the Atom Programs at the Belfer Center, argues in the LA Times that while Iran may be unlikely to make the necessary concessions to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement, this does not mean that the United States and other P5+1 nations should abandon the negotiations. Rather, he suggests that the US seek to expand certain aspects of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), such as providing slightly more access to frozen Iranian assets, in exchange for measures such as reducing the Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium or restrictions on research and development.

Iran Edition: “Nothing!” vs. “Extension of Hope”

Iran EditionHenry Rome assesses the reaction of Iranian news outlets to the further extension of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. There is a clear divide between more moderate and reformist newspapers, which emphasize the continued prospects of diplomacy, while conservative and more hardline outlets are skeptical of the continued efficacy of the talks.

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