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Iran's Trump Cards

How Washington Should Deal With Tehran's Leverage in the Middle East

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2017. President.ir via Reuters

In a freewheeling press conference on February 16, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled to Iran that the fate of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is uncertain. His remarks came days after comments made by then-National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn that Tehran was being put “on notice.” Aside from slapping fresh unilateral sanctions on Iran on February 3, it wasn’t clear what this ultimatum by the Trump White House would actually entail.

Iranians are rattled but hardly running for the bunkers. Tehran believes that Trump may be more bluster than action. And it may have a point, given how Trump honed his self-proclaimed bargaining chops. Taking maximalist positions early in business negotiations can be an effective tactic. Particularly in real estate, negotiations are iterative; the back-and-forth, give-and-take process allows for an incremental ratcheting down from extreme positions without necessarily losing face or sacrificing bargaining leverage. 

But this technique’s transferability to

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