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The Iranian Nuclear Negotiations as a Two-Level Game: The Importance of Domestic Politics

Hurst, SA (2016) The Iranian Nuclear Negotiations as a Two-Level Game: The Importance of Domestic Politics. Diplomacy and Statecraft, 27 (3). pp. 545-567. ISSN 0959-2296

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In July 2015, after over a decade of negotiations, the international community and Iran finally reached agreement over Iran's nuclear programme. All of the work that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was nearly undone, however, by the US Congress, which came close to killing the agreement. That episode emphasized the fact that international negotiations are 'two-level games', in which policy-makers must take into account not just their own objectives and those of their interlocutors, but also the interests of domestic constituencies, if they are to secure the 'ratification' of an agreement. While the impact of domestic political factors on US-Iranian relations has not gone unnoticed, there is little systematic analysis of their role, especially in relation to the nuclear question, and to the extent that domestic politics is considered, it is generally taken to be a constraining factor that has made agreement more difficult to reach. Using Robert Putnam's conceptual framework, we provide a systematic analysis of the impact of domestic political factors on American and Iranian policy during the 2009-15 nuclear negotiations which demonstrates the crucial role these factors played in the eventual outcome of the negotiations. We also offer a correction to the view that domestic politics have acted solely as a barrier to agreement, demonstrating that while this was typically the case, domestic politics in Iran was actually a key factor in the Iranian regime's decision to sign the JCPOA.

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