You don’t need to have written a book on dealmaking to know that Team Biden is making every mistake in the book with Iran.
In a recent episode of Disney’s “Tehran” thriller, an Israeli spymaster (played by Glenn Close) advises one of her operatives trying to make a deal with an Iranian counterpart, “Make him want you, make him come to you—never let him think you need him more than he needs you.”
U.S. President Joe Biden apparently missed that episode, since he’s reportedly pressing ahead with a nuclear deal that the mullahs swear they don’t need and to which they continue to add outrageous new conditions. Add this: The Islamic Republic remains the most deadly state sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East, from Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket attacks on Israel to Hadi Matar’s attempted murder of Salman Rushdie in Chautauqua, New York.
None of this would be so terrifying if the proposed deal didn’t promise to put nearly a billion dollars into Iran’s coffers, or if it forced Iran to stop its attacks on other states in the region—or if it actually stopped Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Tragically, Biden’s new Iran deal fails on all three of these issues.
In fact, the American negotiators seem to have no understanding of how to make a smart deal. Indeed, you need not have written a volume on dealmaking to know that Team Biden is making every mistake in the book.
Rule No. 1: No deal gets done unless you’re talking directly with the decision-maker.
Unfortunately, Iran—because of its distrust of the United States—arrogantly refuses even to negotiate with U.S. officials in the room. That precondition alone should have caused the Americans to walk away from negotiations. Instead, the United States is meekly allowing members of the European Union and primarily Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov to present U.S. demands. Let that sink in: Russia, whose war with Ukraine is currently supported by Iran; Russia, which has just formed an alliance with Iran and Turkey to oppose the United States—Russia is the lead negotiator representing American security interests against Iran. It’s such a sucker’s setup, it reads like bad fiction.
Rule No. 2: Never make a deal with someone who insists they don’t need a deal.
An Iranian leader just told Reuters (on condition of anonymity) that “we are in no rush” to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“We are selling our oil, we have reasonable trade with many countries, including neighboring countries, we have our friends like Russia and China that both are at odds with Washington … our [nuclear] program is advancing. Why should we retreat?”
Iran is thriving precisely because the United States has loosened sanctions against it, which foolishly undermines our own negotiating leverage. Why would anyone but a fool do that?
Rule No. 3: Don’t chase a deal whose negotiations drag on too long.
For almost 17 months the United States has been trying desperately to resuscitate President Barack Obama’s long-dead JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with Iran. Every month or so, the word is leaked that “an agreement may be imminent.” But the Biden team should know that deals don’t improve over time. In fact, the longer the talks go on, the more naive and gullible the Americans look. Sometimes, the best deal is no deal. Good negotiators are always prepared to walk away. It’s already past that time.
Rule No. 4: Don’t make deals with people who are attacking you.
People who want peace make peace overtures. The Iranians show no signs of wanting peace and make no offers of compromise. In fact, they continue to attack U.S. interests and friends. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with plotting to kill former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Following an Iranian fatwa to kill author Salman Rushdie, Hadi Matar tried to stab Rushdie to death recently. Iranian state media praised the act. Iran continues to plot murders, abductions and terror against the United States and its allies (including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad missile attacks on Israel earlier this month). Current terms of the Biden Iran deal do not demand that Iran stop such terrorist behavior. Why on earth not?
Rule No. 5: Don’t make deals with people who keep moving the goalposts.
Every time the United States thinks it’s close to a deal, Iran raises the stakes with new demands. They demanded that the United States take the IRGC off the list of terrorist organizations, and now they’re demanding that the United States guarantee that Western companies investing in Iran will be protected if Washington pulls out of the deal in the future. Iran says this latest demand is non-negotiable—they want a yes-no answer. Unfortunately, Biden can’t guarantee a deal unless he gets two thirds of the Senate to approve it as a treaty—unlikely since more than half the Senate already disapproves of the deal (as it also did the Obama version in 2015).
Rule No. 6: Don’t make a deal that doesn’t meet your minimum requirements.
Biden has promised numerous times—to the American public, to Gulf Arab states and to our ally Israel—that any new Iran deal will stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. However, the original JCPOA did not guarantee that, and no such deal terms have ever been announced by Team Biden for this new version. Biden must explain why we should make a deal that expressly allows Iran to develop a nuclear bomb.
In short, the current Iran deal is a bad deal for three reasons: It fails to follow best negotiating practices, it forces the United States to take the short end of the stick on many issues, and it fails to secure U.S. interests towards a nuclear- and terror-free Iran. In short, it’s a deal better left undone.
If Biden truly believes that his deal is a good one for the United States, he should present it as a treaty to the U.S. Senate according to our Constitution and secure a two-thirds vote of approval to ensure it stands beyond the next election.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.