Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on November 20, 2013.
Article summary below; read the full text here.
When, in early November, Iran and six world powers met in Geneva, negotiators made significant progress toward an initial agreement that would pause Iran’s nuclear development. Hopes are high that the remaining obstacles to a first-phase deal between Tehran and the P5+1—the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—can be overcome soon,and that future talks will further allay concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Despite diplomatic progress, though, skeptics in the United States and Israel argue that the current negotiations are a fool’s errand. They say that the only worthwhile agreement would be one that requires Iran to dismantle its entire nuclear program, including uranium enrichment. In addition, the skeptics argue that Iran only responds to extreme pressure, and that therefore the US Congress must pass tougher sanctions immediately and back them up with a credible threat of military action.
These Godfather-esque arguments have a certain appeal. If the United States makes Iran an offer it can’t refuse, then surely it will back down and give in to every demand, or so the theory goes. But this isn’t Hollywood, and such tactics are much more likely to backfire than succeed.
A diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear impasse is squarely within American national security interests. A reasonable deal would constrain Iran’s nuclear program, increase the international community’s ability to monitor and verify compliance, and give the United States ample warning in the event that Iran makes a dash to acquire the bomb. The first-phase deal the Obama administration is pursuing is a step toward these ends. Attempts by the US Congress to increase sanctions and condition relief on unrealistic maximalist positions—such as insisting that Iran cease all uranium enrichment—would likely doom current diplomatic efforts, thereby increasing the likelihood that the outcomes Washington is trying to prevent come to pass. Those could include unconstrained Iranian nuclear development; a nuclear-armed Iran; a US war against Iran; or all of the above.