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The rigmarole surrounding the supposed failure of negotiations with Iran is causing the media and government to lose sight of what is really important: talking with Iran. Talking is, in and of itself, a confidence building measure. It allows for the growth of familiarity between the parties, and, therefore, greater confidence that the other side will honor any agreements. At this early stage, negotiations with Iran should be viewed as means to that end.
Negotiation is the ongoing process of discussion. A failure of negotiations, as they currently exist with Iran, would only really happen when the talking stops.  What is currently happening between the U.S. and Iran is a failure to compromise–it’s frustrating, seems like a deadlock, and feels like we’re banging our head against a brick wall.  But it’s not a failure. Further rounds of talks will beget further confidence from both sides, and toward that end even the stalemate over the Vienna proposal is not necessarily a cause for alarm.
The possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons in the future must be dealt with in a serious matter. But there is time before Iran will be able to construct a working nuclear weapon.

Various academics, members of the Arms Control Association, former ambassadors, former American Embassy hostages and Foreign Service officers have all said that the United States has time, plenty of time in fact, before Iran develops a workable nuclear weapon, let alone a workable long-range nuclear ballistic missile. The Obama Administration should embrace the lack of a compromise over Iran’s nuclear program to move onto other issues, such as human rights abuses or securing the release of the three American hikers being held in Iran.  Each of these alternative avenues could be an opportunity for Iran to prove its good-will, and we would do well to set up as many opportunities for Iran to gain back our trust as possible.
While the deal proposed by Elbaradei, whereby Iran would ship 75% of its fissile material out of the country, has been touted as a simple confidence boosting measure, it may be that both sides shot the moon in the first round and missed. The nuclear program is such a massive issue on both sides that a compromise was unlikely on the first go round of negotiations. A confidence-building move should be something small that both sides can easily agree to as they feel each other out. It was certainly worth a try to reach an agreement right from the start. It also was definitely worth bringing to the table so that there is no illusion on either side about the other’s desires.
In any trust exercise, you start with something small first. In fact, they are often referred to as trust exercises, plural. During corporate team building exercises, people do not first fall backwards with their eyes closed. Instead, they talk and share something about themselves. Then maybe some type of game that takes place with all eyes open. It is only once a rapport has been created, indeed a level of trust that the team building moves onto the more exciting trust exercises.  Right now, the US and Iran are nowhere near the “eyes closed, falling backwards” stage in their relationship.
There are, however, smaller issues that can be resolved between the United States and Iran that are better suited to function as a confidence building exercise. Why not spin the Lazy Susan of topics and start negotiating for the release of the hikers, greater cooperation on stemming the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan, or security in Iraq?  Best of all would be to see the failure to compromise as an opening to refocus the negotiations on the egregious human rights abuses that have been taking place in Iran before and after the June election.
If the current brouhaha about the failure of negotiations proves anything, then it is that setting timelines for negotiations is a very bad idea. This is especially true if the timeline is an order of magnitude shorter than it should be. Iran will not have workable nuclear weapons for a matter of years. Why then did the United States, and the other P5+1 countries, set a timeline of three months?
U.S.-Iran negotiations have not failed. They are ongoing. The failure to reach a compromise over nuclear enrichment is neither a harbinger of the end of negotiations, nor a signal that the time has come for sanctions. Reaching an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program will not be quick, and the process has only just begun. Luckily the United States and the other P5+1 countries have time to continue to process of negotiation and confidence building.
If the United States and Iran have failed to compromise over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, then it is time to move on to other issues; not read the negotiations their last rites.

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