Iran nuke deal is no bargain

Iranians are looking for a bargain in Vienna – but pushing too hard for a bargain can backfire.

Parties are bargaining hard and blaming the other side for not being flexible, writes Entekhabifard [EPA]

Iranians love bargaining – its a national pastime – and with Iraniansgoal for a good bargain in mind, business owners usually increase the asking price to buffer against the decrease from bargaining. Walking away with a bargain psychologically gives Iranians satisfaction.

A few years ago at the Columbia University campus in New York City, I asked a florist whether I could purchase the purple orchids at the same price as the cheaper white orchids. Instead of answering me, he asked whether I was Iranian. Puzzled by his question, I confirmed that I was: “Well, then, you can have it at the price as you asked for.”

Surprising even the other customers, he explained that he had lived in Los Angeles and had mingled with the Iranian community there. He was quite aware of the bargaining culture explaining: “Iranians cant sleep if they shopped without negotiating for a better price.”

This national pastime extends even towards international relations, as is the case as Iran and the western powers referred to as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) negotiate over Irans nuclear programme.

Failed to capitalise

During the period of the interim deal, which was signed in Geneva almost a year ago and was extended on July 20, both sides did everything in their power to narrow the gap, but western countries failed to capitalise on the Iranian national pastime, chaneh zani. Literally meaning “bargaining”, chaneh zani is a word frequently used in Iranian press when writing on Irans nuclear talks with western powers usually demanding the Iranian negotiating team to bargain better for the country.

Deadline looms over Iran nuclear deal

Now, with time running out for Iran and the negotiators to reach a comprehensive deal by the November 24 deadline, the negotiators are in Vienna working even harder. But so far there is no sign of reaching a deal by the expected time.

With less than three days to the deadline, parties are bargaining hard and blaming the other side for not being flexible and asking for compromise. Anxiety surrounds those Iranians who support the negotiators – they fear the consequences of failed talks on the economy and their livelihoods.

Iranians are not the only ones worried. Gripped by a similar fear of failed talks and its repercussion for the region, Iran’s Arab neighbours are finally engaging by offering a hand to mediate between Iran and the US and boost the nuclear talks. A week ago, Oman hosted trilateral meetings between Iran, the US and EU’s representative Catherine Ashton, in order to narrow the gap and make the path ready before November 24.

Oman’s foreign minister told reporters in Muscat that his country has the support of all Gulf countries. Minister Yousef ben Alawai asked Iran and the US to seize the momentum and make peace.

What remains as the key difference and the gaps that the parties are referring to is apparently more political than technical. According to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian nuclear programme is a real and peaceful programme and “cannot be wished, sanctioned or coerced away”.

Iranians expected negotiators to bargain the best deal and it seems that the government chose well in appointing Zarif as their chief nuclear negotiator. Earlier this year, Zarif made the best possible deal for Iran after a 10-year struggle with P5+1 over the nuclear file but it is too early to tell whether this top negotiator can take what Iranians are expecting and reach a comprehensive deal.

Fuel matters

Apparently Irans demand to produce its own fuel for the 1,000-megawatt power plant faced resistance by the western negotiators. Russia, which built the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, has a 10-year contract to supply the fuel starting in 2011. In other words, for the next seven years, Iran should have no issues regarding fuel.

Now Iran is bargaining for its needs to generate its own fuel for the reactor after 2021, and for the new power plants which are going to be built in the future.

Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted upon a comprehensive deal, but revoking the sanctions will not be as easy as Iranians are expecting and bargaining for.

Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted upon a comprehensive deal, but revoking the sanctions will not be as easy as Iranians are expecting and bargaining for.

Despite the hopes for reaching a comprehensive and historical agreement, after a week of intense negotiations in Vienna, the parties may decide to continue the talks beyond the deadline in the form of another short extension.

Certainly an extension isnt exactly what Iranians are looking for but the positive atmosphere shows Iranians that their dream of a better economy and international recognition of their nuclear programme is still possible.

Of course, both sides have opponents to the process who see the extension as a sign of difficulties for Iran to secure a comprehensive deal. Particularly the hardliners in Iran who have been waiting for the talks to fall apart may be in a celebratory mood as well as US President Barack Obama’s opponents in the new Congress to form on January 2, 2015.

What Iran is basically trying so hard to achieve is securing the nations right to nuclear energy, but this cannot be separated from the cultural habit of bargaining.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, pushing too hard for a bargain can backfire. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday: “If the opposite party of the negotiations has the political will for the deal and avoids excessive demands, the conditions are prepared for the conclusion of the deal.”

Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian journalist, TV commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth – a Memoir of Iran.