There should be little argument that it is better to negotiate Iran out of its nuclear weapons program than it is to try to destroy it militarily.
Iran is desperate to have the world community ease the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Desperate enough to begin negotiations designed to end its nuclear weapons program. But the sanctions should not be lifted without ironclad, verifiable guarantees that Iran is out of the nuclear weapons business.
The Obama administration favors offering limited relief from economic sanctions in return for some concrete action on Iran’s part. The suspension of Iran’s nuclear efforts, even for six months, would then give negotiators time to pursue a comprehensive agreement.
It is being called a “first phase.” But is it enough? As always, any promises by Iran remain suspect. Ending sanctions in return for Iran destroying its nuclear facilities will boomerang if Iran uses its renewed economic power to build a new weapons program deeper underground.
Some experts believe that there is a window of opportunity. Still, there is much skepticism surrounding Iran, not the least from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Long-stalled talks have resumed following the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president in August. He declared his intention to resolve concerns about the country’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Yet, there is very little to recommend Iran as a trustworthy partner. The country is invested in Syria’s civil war, sponsors terrorism and continues to pose a real threat to Israel. Netanyahu is right when he says that a nuclear-armed Iran would be an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. The prime minister, who would like to see more sanctions until Iran has fully dismantled its nuclear infrastructure, has threatened military strikes to protect his homeland.
But still, there may be an opportunity. It appears that Western powers have the upper hand, for now. It is worth offering some easing of sanctions to test Iran’s intentions. Cynicism says that attempts at negotiations are just a ploy by Iran. But if Iran goes back on its word, military action remains possible.