Is a Nuclear Deal with Iran Possible? An Analytical Framework for the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

The attached is an insightful article: “Is a Nuclear Deal with Iran Possible? An Analytical Framework for the Iran Nuclear Negotiations.”

Journal Article, International Security, volume 37, issue 3, page 52–91
Winter 2012/13
Authors: James K. Sebenius, Gordon Donaldson Professor of Business Administration, HBS, Belfer Center Faculty Affiliate, Michael K. Singh




Varied diplomatic approaches by multiple negotiators over the past several years have failed to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran. Mutual hostility, misperception, and flawed diplomacy may be responsible. Yet, more fundamentally, no mutually acceptable deal may exist. To assess this possibility, a “negotiation analytic” framework conceptually disentangles two issues: (1) whether a feasible deal exists; and (2) how to design the most promising process to achieve one. Focusing on whether a “zone of possible agreement” exists, a graphical negotiation analysis precisely relates input assumptions about the parties’ interests, their no-deal options, and possible deals. Under a plausible, mainstream set of such assumptions, the Iranian regime’s no-deal options, at least through the fall of 2012, appear superior to potential nuclear agreements. If so, purely tactical and process-oriented initiatives will fail. Opening space for a mutually acceptable nuclear deal—one that avoids both military conflict and a nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable Iran—requires relentlessly and creatively worsening Iran’s no-deal options while enhancing the value of a deal to the Iranian regime. Downplaying both coercive options and upside potential, as international negotiators have often done, works against this integrated strategy. If this approach opens a zone of possible agreement, sophisticated negotiation will be key to reaching a worthwhile agreement.