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3 Negotiation Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Deal (and 1 Counter-Lesson)

July 21, 2015


John Kerry rates the deal on a scale of one to ten.

Whether you are for or against the deal between the US-led world powers (I’m going to refer to them as the US) and Iran relating to Iran’s nuclear program, one thing that can’t be disputed is that the final deal seems a lot less restrictive for Iran than the prospective deal that had been discussed when the negotiations started. For example, Iran didn’t give up a single centrifuge and went from “anywhere, anytime” inspections to inspections upon 23 days notice.

Now, while I’ve negotiated many deals, I’ve never negotiated a deal with anywhere close to the historical significance of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s easy to second guess leaders and point out where they could’ve done better. However, as someone who has been an attorney for 20 years, I think some of what transpired in the negotiations can be elucidating to those of us who negotiate everyday business transactions.

Here are 3 lessons and 1 counter-lesson:

1. You are only as strong as your ability to walk away.

This one I heard from my mother. It seemed pretty clear with all the delays in the deadlines that the US was not going to walk away from making a deal, any deal. Along with the rest of the world, the Iranian negotiators knew this and could basically decline to agree to any point they didn’t like knowing the US would eventually relent.
If you need the gain the upper hand in negotiations, consider walking away. If you can, let your counterparty know. You’ll see the change in dynamics.

2. If your counterparty thinks you need the agreement, she has the upper hand.

This is close to point 1, but a little different. Again, it seems that President Obama needed the agreement to shore up his dearth of foreign policy achievements. No doubt Iran watched the fit the White House threw when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited by Speaker Boehner to address Congress.

If you are in a negotiation and you give the other party the impression that you must make this deal, you are at a huge disadvantage.

3. An agreement is only as good as the party signing it.

This is probably the point with the most importance, as it goes beyond negotiations to actual contractual performance. As many commentators have pointed out, the key to the Iranian deal is trusting Iran to stick to their obligations. Proponents of the deal tout the fact that the deal displays little to no trust of Iran. Opponents say the deal shows Iran way too much trust, given that nation’s record.

The issue of trust arises a lot in business negotiations. It is crucial to assess what level of trust you have with people you deal with. It is equally as crucial to find an attorney who knows how to make the issue of trust less important and arrange your contracts so you have more to rely on than trust in your counterparty.

The Counter-Lesson

There is one facet of the Iranian agreement that I don’t think translates into the world of every day negotiations.

Negotiations that drag on usually do not end in agreements. With all the missed deadlines in the Iranian agreement, if it would have followed the usual pattern it never would have ended in an agreement. In the business world, negotiations that stop and start and have significant delays usually end in no deal. Deals have momentum and if they lose that momentum they usually don’t close. Maybe, that’s a difference between normal deals and historic international covenants. We observed the same phenomena in the Greek Debt agreement with the EU.

Avrum Aaron, Esq. is the COO of Legal Outsourcing Partners, LLC ( He’d like to negotiate on the other side of the table from John Kerry. He can be reached at 201.379.9230.


From → Contracts, Law

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