Case Studies | Key lessons from ISD’s latest Iran negotiation simulation

Georgetown students tackle a thorny — and topical — diplomatic challenge

Jonas Heering

Georgetown students represented all the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in a recent ISD negotiation simulation on Iran. (Image: Institute for the Study of Diplomacy)

The recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has exacerbated tensions between Iran and the United States. On December 7, the European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal issued a statement calling for restraint. Now, Iranian threats to expel weapons inspectors, and a potential military escalation, threaten President-elect Biden’s plan to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal when he takes office in January.

For professors teaching courses on international relations, U.S.-Iran relations, nuclear proliferation, or international negotiations, ISD’s negotiation simulation, Curbing Iran’s Nuclear and Regional Ambitions, enables students to step into diplomats’ shoes and explore the challenges of negotiating an international nuclear agreement. Whether you are looking for more interactive teaching material for a virtual class or want to prepare your students to advise the incoming Biden administration, we highly recommend our negotiation simulation.

In the scenario, Iran threatens to withdraw from the Non-proliferation Treaty and to stop giving international inspectors access to its nuclear facilities — a scenario that suddenly became a lot less hypothetical with Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Just a couple of weeks before the killing, ISD director Ambassador (ret.) Barbara K. Bodine ran the simulation in her Georgetown University course, INAF 380: Negotiation, Mediation, and Political Persuasion. With the help of former ISD Rusk Fellow Roland McKay, who joined as an adviser from his current diplomatic post in London, current Rusk Fellow Hammad Hammad, and ISD’s editor Alistair Somerville, students spent two class periods over two weeks representing the United States, Russia, China, Iran, and the E-3 at a virtual arms control conference.

The decision to split the simulation up over two weeks helped to prevent Zoom fatigue and led to excellent student engagement. The negotiation experience helped students become more astute observers of the news that followed, while the other instructors praised the students’ ability to get to grips with complex nuclear security issues.

Below are some of our key lessons for other instructors to apply in their own virtual classrooms.

Key lessons

For instructors interested in incorporating this negotiation simulation into their syllabi next semester, particularly for those teaching online, here are several organizational points to bear in mind:

  • Create Gmail accounts for each country team and then create a ‘control room’ email account. Share all addresses in advance of the first negotiation session. Students can use these accounts to communicate with the other teams as well as check back with their respective capitals (the instructors) before making any big decisions or commitments. Instructors can also send out fictitious updates of events, threaten to derail the negotiations, or provide additional demands from home capitals.
  • If you are using a videoconferencing platform (we used Zoom), it is helpful to designate one person, ideally a teaching assistant, to manage the conferencing tool, to create breakout rooms for team meetings, and to monitor time.
  • To facilitate the assignment of breakout rooms for small-group discussion, ensure that the assistant has a list of names for each team and ask the students to include their country in their displayed name, if possible. Ask the students to add country flags to their Zoom backgrounds too!
  • Create a Google Doc template for teams to request meetings with one another.
Iran nuclear deal negotiations in Vienna, July 14, 2015 (Image: Austrian Ministry for European and Foreign Affairs/Flickr)

Jonas Heering is a research assistant at ISD. He is also the Bunker graduate fellow in diplomacy, and a master’s student in the School of Foreign Service.

Access all our negotiation simulations on ISD’s case studies website:

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