America’s Moment of Truth on Iran
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America’s Moment of Truth on Iran


America’s Iran policy is at a crossroads.  Washington can abandon its counterproductive insistence on Middle Eastern hegemony, negotiate a nuclear deal grounded in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and get serious about working with Tehran to broker a settlement to the Syrian conflict.  In the process, the United States would greatly improve its ability to shape important outcomes there.  Alternatively, America can continue on its present path, leading ultimately to strategic irrelevance in one of the world’s most vital regions—with negative implications for its standing in Asia as well. 

U.S. policy is at this juncture because the costs of Washington’s post-Cold War drive to dominate the Middle East have risen perilously high.  President Obama’s self-inflicted debacle over his plan to attack Syria after chemical weapons were used there in August showed that America can no longer credibly threaten the effective use of force to impose its preferences in the region.  While Obama still insists “all options are on the table” for Iran, the reality is that, if Washington is to deal efficaciously with the nuclear issue, it will be through diplomacy.      

In this context, last month’s Geneva meeting between Iran and the P5+1 brought America’s political class to a strategic and political moment of truth.  Can American elites turn away from a self-damaging quest for Middle Eastern hegemony by coming to terms with an independent regional power?  Or are they so enthralled with an increasingly surreal notion of America as hegemon that, to preserve U.S. “leadership,” they will pursue a course further eviscerating its strategic position?        

The proposal for resolving the nuclear issue that Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, presented in Geneva seeks answers to these questions.  It operationalizes the approach advocated by Hassan Rohani and other Iranian leaders for over a decade:  greater transparency on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for recognizing its rights as a sovereign NPT signatory—especially to enrich uranium under international safeguards—and removal of sanctions.  For years, the Bush and Obama administrations rejected this approach.  Now Obama must at least consider it.      

The Iranian package provides greater transparency on Tehran’s nuclear activities in two crucial respects.  First, it gives greater visibility on the conduct of Iran’s nuclear program.  Iran has reportedly offered to comply voluntarily for some months with the Additional Protocol (AP) to the NPT—which it has signed but not yet ratified and which authorizes more proactive and intrusive inspections—to encourage diplomatic progress.  Tehran would ratify the AP—thereby committing to its permanent implementation—as part of a final deal.    

Second, the package aims to validate Iran’s declarations that its enrichment infrastructure is not meant to produce weapons-grade fissile material.  Iran would stop enriching at the near-20 percent level of fissile-isotope purity needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor and cap enrichment at levels suitable for fueling power reactors.  Similarly, Iran is open to capping the number of centrifuges it would install—at least for some years—at its enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordo. 

Based on conversations with Iranian officials and political figures in New York in September (during Rohani and Zarif’s visit to the UN General Assembly) and in Tehran last month, it is also possible to identify items that the Iranian proposal almost certainly does not include.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has reportedly given President Rohani and his diplomats flexibility in negotiating a settlement—but he has also directed that they not compromise Iran’s sovereignty.  Thus, the Islamic Republic will not acquiesce to American (and Israeli) demands to suspend enrichment, shut its enrichment site at Fordo, stop a heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, and ship its current enriched uranium stockpile abroad

On one level, the Iranian package is crafted to resolve the nuclear issue based on the NPT, within a year.  Iran’s nuclear rights would be respected; transparency measures would reduce the proliferation risks of its enrichment activities below what Washington tolerates elsewhere.  On another level, though, the package means to test America’s willingness and capability to resolve the issue on this basis.  It tests this not just for Tehran’s edification, but also for that of other P5+1 states, especially China and Russia, and of rising powers like India and South Korea.       

America can fail the Iranian test in two ways.  First, the Obama administration—reflecting America’s political class more broadly—may prove unwilling to acknowledge Iran’s nuclear rights in a straightforward way, insisting on terms for a deal that effectively suborn these rights and violate Iranian sovereignty.

Change Iran Now
November 6, 2013 at 12:59

Unfortunately, much of the world, including the US, is going along with the Iranian procrastination, failing to realize that Iran is a strategic problem of no comparable regional and global significance. No other issue in the Middle East or elsewhere around the globe can have as negative an impact on world affairs: nuclear proliferation, the prices of a strategic commodity like oil, international terrorism, and the global stature of the US.

November 6, 2013 at 12:38

What USA and Isreal fear most is Iranian nuclear deterrence – the application of MAD (Mutually Assisted Destruction). When, not if, Iran aquires nuclear weapons, Israel loses its ability to bomb Iran at will. That brings the two countries to the Nash Equilibrium. You don't attack me and I don't attack you. A tacit understanding and agreement.

Isreal fears this although it is very good for regional peace. That is what drags US feet on constructively engaging with Iran.

Saudi is another case. USA cannot turn its back on Saudis. Still USA depend on Saudi oil and petro dollar. Despite Saudi funding AQ and other anti-US rebels, there is nothing USA can do to upset Saudi. Not letting Iran off the hook is what Saudi also wants.

Putting all this together, optimism on Iran will be shortlived. Iran should be allowed to have nuclear weapons as Israel does. The other option is a UN sanctioned removal of Israeli nuclear weapons like the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons. Otherwise the moment Syria's chemical weapons are dismantled, Israel will attack Syria.

November 6, 2013 at 09:41

I have given some thought to the problem with Congress and the Israel lobby that leads them on this issue.  It seems very unlikely that either will relent on the issue of sanctions.  Our negotiators with the Iranians have to deal with this problem and I am sure the Iranians are quite aware of the political reality of the US Congress.  I think a deal with the Iranians could be reached if all of the parties (P5+1 and Iran) coordinated their actions.  All of the parties (except the US) agree to remove sanctions and free their economies to do business with Iran.  The US agrees in principle but must delay acceptance until the US Congress acts. Obama also quietlyy agrees to not enforce penalities against any nation that trades with Iran. (This could be problematical since lobby forces inside the government would leak such facts thereby creating political problems).  In any case, the net result would be the defacto elimination of sanctions with Iran excluding the US and Israel.  Basically, sanctions would collapse over night as businesses rushed in to get the first agreements.  This could work and it might also be a solution preferrable to many Iranians.  There must be many that are not interested in a free trade agreement with America that would be accompanied by the inevitible  invasion of American culture.


I wouldn't be surprised if some back room disscussions between the Iranians and p4+1 diplomats have not already taken place on this possible solution.

Sasan Taymourian
November 6, 2013 at 05:38

The US government is too irrational and too arrogant to accept the reality of Iran.

James Canning
November 6, 2013 at 04:11

Israel and Israel lobby will of course continue to oppose improvement in US relations with Iran.  Saudis may come to see benefits that would come from such an improvement.

James Canning
November 6, 2013 at 04:09

Indded, Hong Kong is one of the richest places on the planet.  So is Singapore, thanks in large part to cutting itself free from Malaysia.

James Canning
November 6, 2013 at 04:06

Wide of the mark.  In fact, if a deal is not made with the P5+1, of some sort, further sanctions will follow and if those do not change Iran's position, sadly, a blockade of Iran's oil exports would almost certainly ensue.

James Canning
November 6, 2013 at 04:03

I think the agreement to destroy Syrian CW should be seen as fortuitous, and regard Obama and the US as lucky the deal could be made (and avoid a US missile strike on Syria).

I think John Kerry and other US leaders need to make clear Iran can enjoy great prosperity in coming years, if it can make a deal with the P5+1. 

November 6, 2013 at 03:29

edit: hope Iran will remain firm …



November 6, 2013 at 03:26

It's not all about the US. I hope Iran remain will firm and develop its nuclear deterrent, just like N.Korea. You can't let the US bully you around. Besides, the US is not what it used to be. Iran has reportedly received and/or manufactured over five hundred Russian supersonic Sunburn anti-ship missiles or its equivalent. That's more than enough to sink the entire US navy. The Iranian leadership must understand the bottom line: the US is not to be trusted. Russia learned it the hard way. Iran must have the courage to be the next Vietnam for America. In the mean time, make temporary deals to buy time when possible, but make sure to continue developing its own nuclear deterrent and cooperate with China, Russia, India, and other countries to end the reign of the petro-dollar.

November 6, 2013 at 02:52

It is apparent, from the details of Iranian proposal (and as importantly, the election of president Rohani), that Iran has afforded substantial strategic thoughts, especially this time, and it is intent to shake off its isolations in the bigger picture. It is also prudent to take it that Iranian government is well aware of the facts and challenges facing president Obama and although it seems it has taken it sincerely, but as a fallback it might use delays or a failure strategically to make the nation ready for the phase of post diplomacy.


My guess is that in this month of Muharram, the Iranian government will try to convince the people (green and all) that once again limitless sacrifices is required to preserve the Islamic Republic; if it is able to prove to the Iranian public that: a US president is not omnipotent when facing US government, and the US government is essentially intent in unraveling the revolution through at least sanctions and blockade.

al horvath
November 6, 2013 at 02:41

Nonsense.  MAD will not work between Israel and Iran.  It worked between the US and the USSR during the Cold War because 1.  Both sides had huge nuclear arsenals ensuring a second strike capability.  2.  There were great distances (miles) between the 2 adversaries making it difficult to pull off a first strike.  3.  Both adversaries had huge land masses ensuring that a first strike could not knock out everything.  Bothe parties had a triad of offensive weapons (Aircraft, land based ICBM's and nuclear submarines armed with nuclear missiles making a succesfull first strike unlikely.  These conditions simply don't exist when it comers to Iran and Israel.

Charles Hensel
November 5, 2013 at 22:13

Nothing could be more patently naïve and absurd to think the Jews will not destroy the Iranian Nuclear Facilities.  One absolutely cannot view Israel out of the context of The Holocaust.  The Jews survived for 3,000 years mostly by accommodation, negotiation, and separation.  The essential reality learned by the Jewish people in 1940 was this; that strategy will not work against a foe determined to end the Jewish race.  When the Jews say “Never Again”, they mean, “Never Again.”

Faced with an Iranian regime, (of which Rouhani is the PR Representative) whose official government policy is “to eliminate the Jewish race from the face of the planet”, a nuclear Iran in any form WILL NOT STAND.  The only schedule for ending the Iranian Nuclear Program that is meaningful is the schedule of the Israeli State.  This standoff with Iran is not an issue of politics or even national security in Israel; it is for the very survival of the Jewish People.

The preposterous idea that the major nations can negotiate with Fundamental Islamists is nothing short of insane.  You cannot negotiate with the leaders of Radical Islam whose fundamental value system is mutually exclusive of the value system in the west.  They are willing to destroy their very economy to obtain nuclear weapons.The Jihadists Will Not Stand Down under any circumstances.  To leave Israel out of negotiations in Geneva further isolates the Jews.  They are truly “Alone in the World.”

Netanyahu has drawn his Red Line in the Sand, and unlike Obama, this Red Line is absolute.  The world needs to accept this reality; Israel will bomb the Iranian Nuclear Facilities at a time of their own choosing.  And make no mistake about this, the Jews will turn the Middle East into a Nuclear Wasteland before they allow the Islamists push them into the sea.  Unlike America, the Jews will not ask for permission, they will ACT!  There is nothing “The World” or Obama can do to stop this.

Charles Hensel

Richmond, VA



November 5, 2013 at 19:44

The authors must be still too young as their article have showed their naiveties. I can not be helped but laugh loudly to read this paragraph :If this is so, why should China, Russia, or rising Asian powers continue trying to help Washington—e.g., by accommodating U.S. demands to limit their own commercial interactions with Iran—obtain an outcome it does not actually want?

I just wonder how could they teach 'international relation"   while they read China , Russia and other Asian powers 'minds  this way ? They should consult with Asean countries about China's minset and Eastern European and Baltic countries about Russia's mindset.

The authors seemed NOT to be fluent world history and specially world political history at all.Iran (Persian empire attempted to become world hegemony but failed BC. Portugal, Spanish, Great Britain ,Turkey, German, Japan ,Russia have attempted to become world  hegemonies  but all failed. China now desperately wants to replace US position and it has been doing whatever it can to accomplish its ambtion and Putin also has been desperately trying to revive his glory days of USSR. Therefore, China and Russia limitedly respect US demand of compliance of sanction on Iran because they benefit much  from US and the West capital and technolgy investment into their   if they respect US sanction ,but not because they genuinely want to help US to solve the problem with Iran.

November 5, 2013 at 14:26

Leverett and Leverett wrote, the US should "negotiate a nuclear deal grounded in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)."

Aye, there's the rub.

In 2004 Wendy Sherman was part of the John Kerry-Jon Edwards presidential campaign team.  In explaining how a President Kerry would handle the Iran nuclear file, Sherman averred that Kerry would


"engage with Iran.  He has even considered thinking about whether we can have some direct engagement with Iran which we have not had to date, to work very closely with Europe, with Russia, with Great Britain to put …united pressure on Iran. 

"But this is part of a larger problem:  we have no international strategy for …the real weapons of mass destruction that are proliferating around the world."


That Ms. Sherman believes her statement to be true only underlines the core of the "larger problem," namely, that the United States has systematically warped and eroded the grand bargain at the heart of the NPT, by taking to itself as a nuclear "have," the unwarranted right to decree who and under what circumstances other signatories to NPT may use nuclear technology.  There ARE mechanisms in place to oversee those issues, and they do NOT reside in the United States or in one or another of its presidents.

November 5, 2013 at 08:37

Agree with you this time ……. the American politicians and bureaucrats, the Kissingers,the Brzezinskis, have taken free ride of American success story, built on the hard work of the American people. All the excesses committed in the name of "American national interests" and the failures of American foreign policy in the middle east, Afghanistan and Central America, can be attributed to such handful of individuals.

Such people should be investigated for their excesses and war crimes committed in the past.

November 5, 2013 at 08:21

A nuclear Iran is as certain as the sun and the moon….. only a matter of time …. no one can stop that from happening ….. !

If the Americans can live with a nuclear Pakistan and a nuclear N Korea, there is absolutely no reason why the Americans would not learn to live with a nuclear Iran.

Israel's obsession with a nuclear Iran as its existential threat, has no rational basis. Iran has a glowing history that goes back thousands of years. They are not mad people, as routinely portrayed by a section of the western media. Although Obama is pragmatic and on the right track, the all powerful Zionist lobby with in the American power corridor will ultimately scuttle any Americans reconciliation with a nuclear Iran.

November 5, 2013 at 03:57

A well-written article.  I applaud anyone who advocates flexibility in this post-Cold War era.  The US is indeed at a crossroads, not only with Iran, but China and Russia as well.  Clinton and Bush did a lot of damage to our relationships with Russia and China respectively and did so by acting unilaterally.  

In this particular instance, we could actually learn a lot from China and Hong Kong.  Hong Kong, far from being riven by insurgent warfare or even widespread popular protests, is stable and if not content, at least tolerant of Chinese rulership.  China's one country two systems approach to Hong Kong, applied to the wider context of US foreign policy, could be the way forward.  

American leaders lack maturity.  They inherited the strongest nation on Earth and misconstrued their good luck for hard work.  They need to realize that other people value their sovereignty as much as we do and act accordingly.

November 4, 2013 at 23:54

Leverett and Leverett, you sound quite practical, but the big problem, or headache, is that dealing with the U.S. is like dealing with a head of snakes or a hydra headed creature (one possessing many mouths). While one is kissing you on the cheek, one, two, or more of them are straining to bite you on the back of your neck. So, Leverett and Leverett, exactly what would you be suggesting in your next article ? Thanks and good day.

November 4, 2013 at 20:53

Neocons, Zionists and Saudis will never allow a U.S.-Iran deal. They will oppose it until death.

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