How to Negotiate with Iranians

by Michael Rubin

The media may be focused on the WikiLeaks revelations relating to more recent diplomacy, but the most fascinating document I’ve seen was a dispatch from August 1979 detailing senior Iran hand Bruce Laingen’s recommendations on how to negotiate with Iranians. President Obama and Secretary Clinton should read it in full, because their diplomacy violates every warning Laingen gives. A few money grafs:

PERHAPS THE SINGLE DOMINANT ASPECT OF THE PERSIAN PSYCHE IS AN OVERRIDING EGOISM. ITS ANTECEDENTS LIE IN THE LONG IRANIAN HISTORY OF INSTABILITY AND INSECURITY WHICH PUT A PREMIUM ON SELF-PRESERVATION. THE PRACTICAL EFFECT OF IT IS AN ALMOST TOTAL PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION WITH SELF AND LEAVES LITTLE ROOM FOR UNDERSTANDING POINTS OF VIEW OTHER THAN ONE’S OWN…

THE REVERSE OF THIS PARTICULAR PSYCHOLOGICAL COIN, AND HAVING THE SAME HISTORICAL ROOTS AS PERSIAN EGOISM, IS A PERVASIVE UNEASE ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE WORLD IN WHICH ONE LIVES. THE PERSIAN EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN THAT NOTHING IS PERMANENT AND IT IS COMMONLY PERCEIVED THAT HOSTILE FORCES ABOUND. IN SUCH AN ENVIRONMENT EACH INDIVIDUAL MUST BE CONSTANTLY ALERT FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO PROTECT HIMSELF AGAINST THE MALEVOLENT FORCES THAT WOULD OTHERWISE BE HIS UNDOING. HE IS OBVIOUSLY JUSTIFIED IN USING ALMOST ANY MEANS AVAILABLE TO EXPLOIT SUCH OPPORTUNITIES. THIS APPROACH UNDERLIES THE SOCALLED “BAZAAR MENTALITY” SO COMMON AMONG PERSIANS, A MIND-SET THAT OFTEN IGNORES LONGER TERM INTERESTS IN FAVOR OF IMMEDIATELY OBTAINABLE ADVANTAGES AND COUNTENANCES PRACTICES THAT ARE REGARDED AS UNETHICAL BY OTHER NORMS…

THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS FOR THOSE WHO WOULD NEGOTIATE WITH PERSIANS IN ALL THIS:

–FIRST, ONE SHOULD NEVER ASSUME THAT HIS SIDE OF THE ISSUE WILL BE RECOGNIZED, LET ALONE THAT IT WILL BE CONCEDED TO HAVE MERITS. PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION WITH SELF PRECLUDES THIS. A NEGOTIATOR MUST FORCE RECOGNITION OF HIS POSITION UPON HIS PERSIAN OPPOSITE NUMBER.

–SECOND, ONE SHOULD NOT EXPECT AN IRANIAN READILY TO PERCEIVE THE ADVANTAGES OF A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP BASED ON TRUST. HE WILL ASSUME THAT HIS OPPOSITE NUMBER IS ESSENTIALLY AN ADVERSARY…

–THIRD, INTERLOCKING RELATIONSHIPS OF ALL ASPECTS OF AN ISSUE MUST BE PAINSTAKINGLY, FORCEFULLY AND REPEATEDLY DEVELOPED. LINKAGES WILL BE NEITHER READILY COMPREHENDED NOR ACCEPTED BY PERSIAN NEGOTIATORS.

–FOURTH, ONE SHOULD INSIST ON PERFORMANCE AS THE SINE QUA NON AT ESH STAGE OF NEGOTIATIONS. STATEMENTS OF INTENTION COUNT FOR ALMOST NOTHING.

–FIFTH, CULTIVATION OF GOODWILL FOR GOODWILL’S SAKE IS A WASTE OF EFFORT. THE OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE AT ALL TIMES SHOULD BE IMPRESSING UPON THE PERSIAN ACROSS THE TABLE THE MUTUALITY OF THE PROPOSED UNDERTAKINGS, HE MUST BE MADE TO KNOW THAT A QUID PRO QUO IS INVOLVED ON BOTH SIDES.

–FINALLY, ONE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THE THREAT OF BREAKDOWN IN NEGOTIATIONS AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT AND NOT BE COWED BY THE POSSIBILITY. GIVEN THE PERSIAN NEGOTIATOR’S CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS, HE IS GOING TO RESIST THE VERY CONCEPT OF A RATIONAL (FROM THE WESTERN POINT OF VIEW) NEGOTIATING PROCESS.