As the deal to scale back Iran’s nuclear program fell through last weekend, two points remained clear:
• A negotiated settlement probably won’t eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons threat in its entirety; and
• Neither will an airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Given those realities, which are admittedly stark, we still think negotiating is the better options — for now.
According to reports, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — the so-called P5+1 — negotiated a deal in Geneva with Iran, which would have relaxed sanctions on Iran in return for a temporary freeze on its nuclear program. That deal collapsed this past weekend. Depending on whom you believe, France was responsible for the collapse because it held out for controls on a heavy water reactor in Iran, which could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed the P5+1 was united, and that it was Iran that backed away. NPR also reported an unnamed Israeli source pinning the breakdown on Iran.
Whatever the reason, where do we go from here?
Military action is no more likely because of the breakdown; no one really wants such an attack. Even if it succeeded in crippling Iran’s nuclear program, it could also start the third war in that region in a decade, suck in the United States and radicalize the Iranian people.
But as General Uzi Dayan, former IDF deputy chief of staff told us about this time last year when he visited Pittsburgh, an airstrike, which he supports if sanctions fail, could only set back Iran’s program, not destroy it.
A negotiated settlement is little more appealing. It’s hard to envision a scenario under which Iran stops enriching uranium and gives up the material it already has.
Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most vocal critic of the talks, says a relaxation in sanctions without adequate inspections and firm controls on enrichment of uranium would be the “deal of the century” for Iran.
Kerry didn’t take kindly to such language. As reported by The New York Times Monday, he strongly denied the P5+1 would give away the store to get a weak deal.
“Having the negotiation does not mean giving up anything,” The Times reported Kerry as saying. “It means you will put to the test what is possible and what is needed, and whether or not Iran is prepared to do what is necessary to prove that its program can only be a peaceful program.”
He urged the prime minister to wait and see the details of any agreement before opposing it.
Sanctions, though long scorned for being ineffective in slowing Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon, have apparently succeeded in bringing the Islamic republic to the negotiating table. Though far from perfect, let’s see what else they can yield, and push for greater controls.