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A Single Roll of the Dice

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran

Trita Parsi
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A Single Roll of the Dice
    Book Description:

    Have the diplomatic efforts of the Obama administration toward Iran failed? Was the Bush administration's emphasis on military intervention, refusal to negotiate, and pursuit of regime change a better approach? How can the United States best address the ongoing turmoil in Tehran? This book provides a definitive and comprehensive analysis of the Obama administration's early diplomatic outreach to Iran and discusses the best way to move toward more positive relations between the two discordant states.

    Trita Parsi, a Middle East foreign policy expert with extensive Capitol Hill and United Nations experience, interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil-including the top American and Iranian negotiators-for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama's early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations' dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate. Contrary to prevailing opinion, Parsi contends that diplomacy has not been fully tried. For various reasons, Obama's diplomacy ended up being a single roll of the dice. It had to work either immediately-or not at all. Persistence and perseverance are keys to any negotiation. Neither Iran nor the U.S. had them in 2009.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18377-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. One A Peace of Necessity
    (pp. 1-8)

    Tim Guldimann arrived in Washington in early May 2003. As the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, he served as caretaker of American interests in Iran because the United States does not have an embassy there. He visited the U.S. capital every few months to brief American officials on the latest developments in the Islamic Republic. But this was no ordinary visit. In Guldimann’s possession was an Iranian document offering something many at the time believed was unthinkable: comprehensive negotiations between the United States and Iran.

    Guldimann’s visit to Washington came only weeks after U.S. troops had sacked Baghdad and ended Saddam...

  6. Two With Friends Like These …
    (pp. 9-30)

    Millions around the globe were glued to their TVs to watch President Obama’s message of hope on Inauguration Day 2009. In Tehran, however, decision makers were looking for a key buzzword in the new president’s speech: mutual respect. Obama didn’t disappoint. “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect … we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your first,” Obama said in his address to the 1.5-million-strong crowd on the Washington mall. “Mutual respect” has become an almost mysterious term in U.S.-Iran relations. The Iranians have repeatedly...

  7. Three “He Is with Us”
    (pp. 31-42)

    In a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in The Hague, high-level representatives of the Iranian government and senior American foreign policy experts—many of them associated with the Obama campaign—met over the course of two days in early spring 2008 to see if the problems between the two countries could be resolved peacefully. It was their second meeting in less than three months; two more meetings would be held before the year’s end.

    It was neither an official meeting nor an official negotiation. But the high-level representation from both sides signified that this was not an ordinary academic...

  8. Four The Review
    (pp. 43-68)

    For almost a decade, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was at the center of the discord over Iran’s nuclear program. Yet the former Egyptian diplomat readily recognized that the nuclear issue was not the root problem; rather, it was a symptom of the ongoing dispute between the United States and Iran. As the temperature between Washington and Tehran reached a boiling point under the Bush administration, ElBaradei went beyond just addressing nuclear technicalities and began acting as an indirect mediator between the two capitals. And rather than just seeking to stop an Iranian bomb...

  9. Five Israel and Obama Clash
    (pp. 69-78)

    As Obama was preparing his Iran strategy and laying the groundwork for diplomacy, opponents and skeptics of engagement worked diligently to close the president’s political space for any sustained outreach. In what many analysts viewed as attempted sabotage, Israeli president Shimon Peres released his own Persian New Year greeting only hours after learning of Obama’s unprecedented video recording. Peres’ predecessor, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav, had sent New Year’s greetings in Persian to the Iranian people on the Voice of Israel radio for a few years. But this was the first time Peres spoke to the Iranians.

    Peres did not mince his...

  10. Six Fraud
    (pp. 79-102)

    Journalists at the Press TV headquarters in Tehran were eagerly monitoring the country’s June 2009 election results late into the evening. Though the English language station was set up during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency to convey his government’s perspective on global affairs to an English-speaking audience outside of Iran, a “Green Wave”—the movement behind Mir Hussein Mousavi’s presidential campaign—had swept most of the station’s employees. The mood was jubilant as many of the employees predicted a strong showing by Mousavi. The polls had been closed for just an hour, and the results were starting to trickle in slowly.


  11. Seven Sanctions Versus Diplomacy
    (pp. 103-113)

    The election fallout in Iran created an opportunity for opponents of diplomacy to minimize the Obama administration’s political space for maneuvering. The images on CNN of the Iranian regime’s paramilitary groups shooting pro-Mousavi protesters provided strong impetus to revisit the issue of sanctions in Congress, even though most recognized that sanctioning Iran prior to the commencement of talks could make diplomacy dead on arrival. But a combination of several forces—those seeking sanctions to upstage diplomacy, partisan efforts to undermine Obama, and those who felt that Congress had to take some type of action to demonstrate its opposition to Tehran’s...

  12. Eight The Confidence-Building Measure
    (pp. 114-150)

    The Iranian election mayhem turned the Obama administration’s timetable and plans for diplomacy upside down, but it did not stop the nuclear clock. Iran’s nuclear program was progressing, as were the Obama administration’s strategic efforts to bring it to a halt. A critical factor was Iran’s growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). If the LEU is reenriched to a level of 85 percent or more (from 3.5 percent at the LEU level), it may be converted into high-enriched uranium (HEU) that can be used to build a nuclear warhead. A simple nuclear warhead can be manufactured from approximately 25–50...

  13. Nine The Second Track
    (pp. 151-171)

    After two disappointing face-to-face meetings with the Iranians, the Obama administration was ready to forgo diplomacy and activate the pressure track. Diplomacy had run into its first hurdle—the swamplands of internal Iranian politics and the web of mistrust entangling U.S.-Iran relations. Already on October 7, 2009, before the Vienna meeting, Obama had gathered like-minded states for a meeting in Washington to prepare the ground for sanctions. Some senior officials at the State Department and the White House had spent most of 2009 developing various sanctions strategies in anticipation of the collapse of diplomacy. By late November 2009, weeks before...

  14. Ten The Art of Taking Yes for an Answer
    (pp. 172-209)

    After months of diplomatic wrangling with hostile and friendly elements and states alike, the Obama administration was finally on the verge of passing a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran’s nuclear activities. Concessions had been given to the Russians and Chinese; pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Congress had been heeded; Iranian maneuvers to influence the vote had been countered; and a plan of action with the EU had been agreed upon. All that remained were the formalities.

    But in that last moment, Washington miscalculated the diplomatic skills of two up-and-coming states—Brazil and Turkey—and their desire to demonstrate...

  15. Eleven Trapped in a Paradigm of Enmity
    (pp. 210-224)

    A year and a half into his presidency, President Barack Obama was celebrating not the diplomatic victory he had been seeking, but rather the imposition of sanctions he had hoped to avoid. Despite extensive outreach, clear strategic benefits, and an unprecedented opportunity for engagement, Obama found himself stuck in the same confrontational relationship with Iran as that of other American presidents before him. And, as many officials in his administration had suspected, while sanctions might have been politically imperative from a domestic standpoint and could make life more difficult for the Iranians, they were not a solution to the standoff...

  16. Twelve Epilogue An Uncertain Future
    (pp. 225-240)

    With popular unrest sweeping away dictatorial regimes in the Arab world, strategists in the White House must take into account far greater uncertainty as they address Iran going forward. Splits within the conservative camp in Iran have widened, and the power struggle between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reached a climax as the former becomes increasingly marginalized within the regime and inches closer to what may be a lame duck term. This power struggle is symptomatic of a larger competition between the Islamic Republic’s old guard and a new generation of Iranian politicians who were the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 241-274)
  18. Index
    (pp. 275-284)