I was just browsing through the newly released "CableGate" collection on WikiLeaks, and came across a cable written by someone in the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, making observations about the Persian (Iranian) psyche, and how understanding this should change the way in which you negotiate with them.
The conclusion was:
THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS FOR THOSE WHO WOULD NEGOTIATE WITH PERSIANS IN ALL THIS:
- --FIRST, ONE SHOULD NEVER ASSUME THAT HIS SIDE OF THE ISSUE WILL BE RECOGNIZED, LET ALONE THAT IT WILL BE CONCEDED TO HAVE MERITS. PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION WITH SELF PRECLUDES THIS. A NEGOTIATOR MUST FORCE RECOGNITION OF HIS POSITION UPON HIS PERSIAN OPPOSITE NUMBER.
- --SECOND, ONE SHOULD NOT EXPECT AN IRANIAN READILY TO PERCEIVE THE ADVANTAGES OF A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP BASED ON TRUST. HE WILL ASSUME THAT HIS OPPOSITE NUMBER IS ESSENTIALLY AN ADVERSARY. IN DEALING WITH HIM HE WILL ATTEMPT TO MAXIMIZE THE BENEFITS TO HIMSELF THAT ARE IMMEDIATELY OBTAINABLE. HE WILL BE PREPARED TO GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL, INCLUDING RUNNING THE RISK OF SO ALIENATING WHOEVER HE IS DEALING WITH THAT FUTURE BUSINESS WOULD BE UNTHINKABLE, AT LEAST TO THE LATTER.
- --THIRD, INTERLOCKING RELATIONSHIPS OF ALL ASPECTS OF AN ISSUE MUST BE PAINSTAKINGLY, FORCEFULLY AND REPEATEDLY DEVELOPED. LINKAGES WILL BE NEITHER READILY COMPREHENDED NOR ACCEPTED BY PERSIAN NEGOTIATORS.
- --FOURTH, ONE SHOULD INSIST ON PERFORMANCE AS THE SINE QUA NON AT EACH STAGE OF NEGOTIATIONS. STATEMENTS OF INTENTION COUNT FOR ALMOST NOTHING.
- --FIFTH, CULTIVATION OF GOODWILL FOR GOODWILL'S SAKE IS A WASTE OF EFFORT. THE OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE AT ALL TIMES SHOULD BE IMPRESSING UPON THE PERSIAN ACROSS THE TABLE THE MUTUALITY OF THE PROPOSED UNDERTAKINGS, HE MUST BE MADE TO KNOW THAT A QUID PRO QUO IS INVOLVED ON BOTH SIDES.
- --FINALLY, ONE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THE THREAT OF BREAKDOWN IN NEGOTIATIONS AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT AND NOT BE COWED BY THE POSSIBILITY. GIVEN THE PERSIAN NEGOTIATOR'S CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS, HE IS GOING TO RESIST THE VERY CONCEPT OF A RATIONAL (FROM THE WESTERN POINT OF VIEW) NEGOTIATING PROCESS.
Reading these points (I added the emphases) it is really striking how if you replace the word "Persian/Iranian" with "Palestinian" you have a very good synopsis of everything that has been going wrong with the negotiations between Israel and the PLO over the past nearly 20 years. Imagine how different things would be if the Israeli negotiators and respective Prime Ministers over the years had:
- Insisted on forcing recognition of the Israeli position as a prerequisite for talking, ever
- No assumed that the PLO would ever perceive the advantage of a long-term relationship with Israel based on trust, and rather, assumed that the PLO would always try to maximize their own benefits, and would go to great lengths (starting wars and intafadas) in order to achieve their goals
- Insisted on performance and following up on obligations, and not being satisfied by PLO statements of intent (which count for almost nothing)
- Recognized that giving away things to the PLO merely for the cultivation of goodwill will never get you anywhere, and that if they get something, they must give something tangible back in return (and a statement of intention is not tangible)
- Been prepared for threats of a breakdown in negotiations at any moment (indeed, these threats happen nearly every day, and are most likely to be found on the day after Israel makes a goodwill gesture)
Of course, it would be good for the current US administration to reread this memo a few times before the next time that they attempt to "negotiate" with Ahmadinejad (not to mention before the next time that they pressure Israel into making more good-will gestures in response to threats of a breakdown in negotiations, before the other side has even recognized Israel's right to exist).