National Discussion and Debate Series
In August 2005, Iran's leadership formally notified the IAEA that they were "resuming uranium conversion activities," triggering concerns that Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons. Since this time, world powers have tried in vain to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions; three U.N. Security Council resolutions seem to have had little impact on Iran's behavior. President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran would be "a game-changer in the region," not only as an existential threat to Israel but also due to the increased likelihood of terrorists attaining such weapons. The critical question remains: To what lengths will people go to prevent a nuclear Iran?
Most policymakers, even those inclined to a hawkish approach on the issue, agree that the new administration should be given time to engage in its own diplomacy with Tehran. This could range from low-level talks solely on the nuclear issue to direct, unconditional, and comprehensive diplomacy at senior levels. Meanwhile, talks between Iran and the "EU-3 plus 3" (France, Germany, and Britain, plus China, Russia, and the U.S.) would continue on a parallel track.
If diplomacy fails, two broad options remain. First, the U.S. can accept Iran as a nuclear power and continue to work on ways to slow the growth of its nuclear arsenal. If this fails, the U.S. might begin a policy of containment and deterrence, while declaring a nuclear umbrella for allies in the Persian Gulf to reassure Israel and ensure a regional balance of power. The other option is for the U.S. or Israel to engage in targeted military strikes in an effort to slow Iran's progress. The time gained by airstrikes would be used to find a negotiated settlement to the issue or work for regime change in Tehran.
While direct diplomacy is his first choice, Obama says a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and he "will do everything that's required to prevent it." Iran already wields enormous power in the region. With an ongoing war in Iraq and tensions high in the Gaza Strip, the specter of a nuclear Iran looms large over the new administration.