A decade has elapsed since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had secretly built a uranium-enrichment facility. Since then, Iran and the Western powers have fumbled several opportunities to reach an agreement that reduces the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Iran apparently has not made a strategic decision to build nuclear weapons and does not yet have the necessary ingredients for an effective nuclear arsenal. But its capabilities are improving. By the end of next year, Iran could install more-advanced centrifuges and significantly increase its enriched-uranium stockpile. The time available for diplomacy must not be wasted.
Tough international sanctions have slowed Iran's program and increased pressure on Tehran to negotiate. Yet sanctions alone won't stop Iran's dangerous nuclear pursuits.
The military option would be counterproductive and costly. As a new report from an American bipartisan group of 33 former diplomats and national security experts, including Gen. Anthony Zinni and Gen. Brent Scowcroft, says, a preventive strike would only temporarily set back Iran's program and prompt Iran to openly pursue the bomb.
The goal for US negotiators must be to restrict Iran's enrichment to normal reactor-grade levels and limit its stockpiles to actual nuclear power needs, while allowing more intrusive IAEA inspections to ensure that Iran has halted all weapons-related work.
A revised proposal calling for a halt to Iran's accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which is closer to weapons grade, in exchange for relaxing some of the international oil and financial sanctions imposed on Iran, could buy time and build momentum.
Pursuing such a course is difficult, but it is the best option on the table.
Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.