Break bad habits
Revisiting and restarting nuclear negotiations would require credibility and patience, two things Trump isn’t exactly known for. Because he’s tarnished American credibility by backing out of the Iran deal, the Iranians are probably wary that the US signing on the dotted line will last beyond Trump’s latest mood swing. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as JCPOA, took years of careful negotiations, first behind the scenes and then publicly, to hammer out. New nuclear negotiations would take time, even when experts have been empowered to hammer out difficult details.
Message in a bottle
Though the United States may be eager to curb Iran’s accelerating nuclear activities, the President needs to do something out of character and speak with his intelligence community about the source of Iran’s latest offer for a deal. Zarif floated this offer, but it’s unclear whether he speaks on behalf of the Supreme Leader or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Paul’s peace offering
Trump’s ever-changing policies toward Iran are also a cause for confusion. His initial diatribes that the Iran deal was a failure because it covered only nuclear weapons, not other activities like ballistic missile development, have now shifted to his saying that he wants to talk with Iran just about nuclear weapons.
US officials will need to look at who’s talking when it comes to assessing Iranian offers to talk. Because the Iranians are probably distrustful of Trump and unclear whether anyone is authorized to actually speak on behalf of him, factions within the Iranian power structure may try to appeal to Trump’s preference for publicity and float superficially substantial offers that he can use to back down. But, if we’re really serious, the President will have to break some bad habits and clearly identify someone to speak on his behalf publicly and, more important, behind the scenes, where the real action happens.
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