How Iranian negotiators calculate their BATNA

4th May 2016

Samuel Passow
Samuel Passow

Iranians tend to set a relatively high Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), thus demonstrating willingness to walk away from the table at an early stage of negotiations. They primarily view their BATNA as time-dependent. A better alternative may not exist for them presently, but it may arise in the future, hence there is no reason to concede now, which is why negotiations with them tend to be drawn out affairs.

The Iranian negotiator’s BATNA may be difficult to predict. In some cases, they may be unwilling to make any agreement in case they come under criticism from political adversaries at home for selling out to the foreigner. In their current economic environment, they will be under great pressure not to grant foreign firms market share unless they get the trade-offs they need in terms of technology & skills transfer, and job creation. For years they have survived on an import-substitution manufacturing base, and it has created a culture of self-reliance, which they are not about to give this up easily.

Iranian negotiation strategies are notoriously short-term focused. They do not often see the trust that the deal builds as an asset that may be worth making concessions for. Very rarely will they offer a deal in which the long-term benefits from dealing with the other side emerge years later. In this respect, Iranians are very different to the Chinese.