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Common Ground, Common Good

The only US policy on Iran that will work: common ground

A successful US policy on Iran will have to thread the needle between two camps – those who believe the US must do more to convince Iran it is wiling to compromise and those pushing for unrelenting pressure on Iran, even the threat of military strikes.

By Blaise MisztalOp-ed contributor / September 26, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament during the 68th United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26 in New York. Op-ed contributor Blaise Misztal writes: ['President Obama] and Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, should unite behind a policy that lays out an acceptable deal while reaffirming their commitment to prevent a nuclear Iran, by all means necessary.'

Mike Segar/AP

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Washington

The policy debate about how to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons was never about just Syria. It was also a dry run for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. But now that a military strike has been averted and a diplomatic deal struck, two very different lessons have been imputed from the experience.

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A successful US policy on Iran will have to thread the needle between two camps – those who believe the US must do more to convince Iran it is wiling to compromise and those pushing for unrelenting pressure on Iran, even the threat of military strikes.

Fundamentally, the debate about Syria came down to credibility. President Obama drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons – backed by the implicit threat of a US military response – and Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad crossed it. To do nothing would have suggested that US declarations are meaningless. But a unilateral military response risked miring US military in another endless conflict for which Americans clearly had no appetite.

The US-Russian deal – which would facilitate the removal or destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal – clearly heeded popular desires to stay out of Syria. It also avoided a partisan showdown in Congress over authorization for the use of force, a spectacle that would have weakened the perception of US resolve abroad. But there is a lingering disagreement about whether the deal reinforces – or undermines – US credibility and what the implications are for Iran.

Three successive administrations, from both parties, have made it US policy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. More specifically, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would “use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

That promise will be put to the test in the next year. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has indicated a willingness to seriously engage the United States, telling the United Nations General Assembly this week that Iran “is prepared to engage immediately in…talks.” For some, this new attitude emanating from Tehran, combined with the diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis, has opened up the door to a deal with Iran.

According to this view, by allowing Syria’s Assad to give up his chemical weapons, rather than attacking him, the US has not only asserted its determination to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction but also established itself as a credible diplomatic partner. Iran, which might have previously doubted the sincerity of US overtures, now has a clear signal that the US is willing and able to strike deals. Some have argued that policymakers should relax US sanctions against Tehran to further indicate goodwill.

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