The deadline for the nuclear talks between the great world powers and Iran is Tuesday, June 30.Many have wondered why the US and other Western nations are even talking to the Iranian regime about its nuclear weapons programs at a time when it is sponsoring terrorism abroad and suppressing dissidents at home.The Iranians are not being asked, as part of the negotiations, to curtail their sponsorship of Hezbollah or terrorist groups operating in the Gaza Strip; to scale back their support for the Assad regime in Syria; to stop destabilizing Yemen through their support for the Houthis.No demand has been made of them to release any of the American citizens in their country’s prisons, such as Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent; nor have they been asked to end the six years of house arrest imposed on the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement, such as Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook pageSome have likened the US’s approach to Iran to the Cold War era, when America pursued nuclear arms control with the Soviet Union at a time when it was imprisoning dissidents at home and undermining Western-backed governments abroad. No linkage was made between the nuclear arms talks and the bad things the Soviets were doing, because the nuclear issue was prioritized.Similarly, nothing the mullah regime in Iran does – no matter how bad – is perceived to be as important as preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Any attempt to reach a broader deal with the Iranian regime – to change its policies at home or abroad – would almost certainly fail, not least because its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has ruled out talking about anything else. The best strategy is to focus on the biggest threat – a nuclear- armed Iran.The parallel drawn between present talks with Iran and the negotiations that went on in the 1970s and 1980s between the US and the Soviets makes some sense. But this does not explain the US’s failures on the nuclear front. The US and other Western nations have caved in on a few basic principles that essentially pave the way for Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. It is imperative that they change tack before it is too late.First, the US must ensure that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are permitted to effectively monitor compliance with the agreement. That means IAEA inspectors must be given timely and effective access to any sites – including military sites – in Iran they need to visit in order to verify its compliance with the agreement. The inspectors must be able to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities. All this must be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief is permitted.Second, the deal must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment – at least in the first 10 years. The goal must be to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible.Third, sanctions relief must be linked to Iran’s implementation of its obligations. Sanctions must not be lifted before the IAEA confirms Iran has complied with the agreement’s requirements.Finally, and most importantly, the US must go on record, again, that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent Iran from producing enough fissile material to produce a nuclear weapon.Just last week, Khamenei ruled out foreign inspections of the country’s military nuclear facilities. There is real danger that because the Obama administration is so intent on reaching an agreement, it will cave in to Khamenei’s dictates.If the Iranians manage to build a nuclear weapon because the US and other world powers rushed into signing a bad deal, Iran’s pernicious influence in the region and in the world will only grow. With nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime would likely feel free to act without fear of any consequences from the West.The US has decided to ignore Iran’s support for terrorism abroad and its suppression of political opposition at home, in an attempt to focus on the truly important issue of nuclear weapons control. That is a defendable position, but only on condition that the deal signed with Iran contains the requisite elements for preventing it from achieving nuclear capability.