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.
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But at the same time as Iran appears to be warming to diplomacy and winding down parts of its nuclear program, it has been accelerating other parts. An August 2013 International Atomic Energy Agency report indicates that Iran is approaching an undetectable nuclear weapons capability – the ability to manufacture fissile material for a nuclear device in less time than will be required to detect and respond to such action. According to some estimates, Iran will gain this capability by mid-2014.Skip to next paragraph
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Those that focus on this ticking clock worry that the Syrian deal has allowed Assad to evade punishment for his transgressions and inspired Tehran to do the same. Thus, Iran’s newly amicable rhetoric seems to them merely a continuation of its familiar stalling tactics. And these tactics have yielded, as yet, no concrete actions. Mr. Rouhani, for example, reportedly deemed it “too complicated” to meet with Obama at the UN this week. And in 2003, when Iran agreed to suspend its program, it actually continued the work covertly.
The only way to avoid being duped again, some argue, is to exert even more pressure on Iran, until it has no choice but to negotiate in good faith.
An effective strategy will have to find the common ground between these two camps – those who believe releasing pressure on Iran is the fastest route to a diplomatic deal and those who believe greater pressure on Iran is the answer.
Tehran’s recent charm offensive might be the last chance for a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to its nuclear ambitions. The US would be irresponsible not to test Iran’s sincerity. But it must remain cognizant of the fast-closing window for diplomacy; Iran cannot be allowed to prevaricate until it presents the world with a nuclear fait accompli.
Thus, to signal their willingness to strike a deal and to expedite the diplomatic process, US policymakers should outline the parameters of an acceptable agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. Rather than pursuing incremental agreements and confidence building measures, the US must present Iran with a plan that addresses all the major questions at issue, upholds the conditions required by the UN Security Council resolutions on Iran, including the suspension of uranium enrichment and greater access for international inspectors, and protects US national security. They should also establish a deadline for Iran to respond.
To incentivize a timely, positive response, the US should continue to exert maximum pressure on Iran through continuing economic sanctions and by keeping the threat of force as an option on the table. Indeed, a unanimous lesson from Syria is that the credible and immediate specter of military action can lend a sudden urgency to diplomacy.
But to best signal to Iran such American resoluteness – both in seeking peace and preparing for the worst – the president 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. Bipartisanship, and this is the real lesson from the Syria debate, is the ultimate form of credibility.