The Impossible Bargain: Iranian-American Relations in the Extended Framework of Putnam’s Two-Level Game Theory

Document Type: Original Article


PhD Candidate of Islamic Law, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary


Both in the U.S. and in Iran, foreign policy making is the result of a complex negotiation process between the different bodies of the government. In both countries, anti-Iranian and anti-American sentiments became the hallmark of the conservative elites’ thinking, which has been effectively blocking a political détente between the parties. The argument of this analysis departs from the dogmatism of the elites and states that the failure of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement was not only the result of the tight constraint of domestic actors on each country’s win-sets, but also due to the fact that both countries denied the addition of Level 3 to Putnam’s Two-Level Game Theory, that is, negotiation with the alliance blocs of the respective parties. Both negotiators failed to recognize the importance of the regional players and their threat perceptions that had not been limited to Iran’s nuclear capability, but at the same time involved Iran’s military ambitions. The analysis argues that widening the scope of the nuclear negotiations to three levels would prove the unfeasibility of a nuclear agreement concluded in the current geopolitical context. Only the deconstruction of the Western double standard – that American military presence in the Persian Gulf is normal while Iranian military presence is unacceptable aggressiveness – could lead to the possibility of a strong and widely accepted deal on the Iranian nuclear activities. The author of the analysis thus suggests the necessity of limiting the military expansion of both the U.S. and Iran as a precondition for a successful three-level negotiation process.


Main Subjects