Iran Backtracks on Nuclear Deal, What Next?

Iran will no longer follow through on the landmark agreement on nuclear enrichment

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Less than a month after Iran made a landmark agreement to send 70% of its uranium to Russia for enriching-- allowing medical isotopes while denying Iran the opportunity to weaponize--Tehran has backtracked. Iranian representatives say they no longer plan to follow the agreement, which was seen as a key success for President Obama's efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program. Instead, Iran says it will ship smaller amounts incrementally, which would allow it to continue the enrichment Obama sought to halt. What options are there for confronting Iran, and what does its obstinate behavior mean for the region? The relevant Senate committee has already agreed to allow tougher sanctions.

  • To Win Test of Wills, Stronger Sanctions The Washington Post's Robert Kagan says the initial deal "was really more a test of Iran's intentions than a decisive breakthrough." Now Kagan says Iran is testing the U.S. "Tehran is obviously probing to see whether President Obama can play hardball or whether he can be played. If Obama has any hope of getting anywhere with the mullahs, he needs to show them he means business, now, and immediately begin imposing new sanctions," he writes. "For the clerics, an endless negotiating process is not merely a means of putting off any real concessions on its nuclear program. It is also, and more important, a way of putting off any Western sanctions that could produce new and potentially explosive unrest in their already unstable country."
  • Diplomatic Engagement Only Real Option The Washington Note's Ben Katcher dismisses the so-called alternatives. "The only two tactical suggestions I have come across are either the use of military force to take out Iran's nuclear facilities or 'crippling sanctions' that would starve Iran's economy. The problem is that neither of these 'options' is really feasible. A military strike on Iran would have disastrous consequences for the stability of the Middle East and is a recipe for three more decades of antagonistic relations between Washington and Tehran. Meanwhile, the idea that either the Chinese or the Russians will support 'crippling sanctions' against Iran is a delusion," he writes. "That means engaging in creative diplomacy and understanding that negotiations will likely be a long and difficult process."
  • What About Containment? The New Republic's Michael Crowley points out that the White House may be considering containment, "The strategy that dare not speak its name." This would mean allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons but containing it and deterring it from using them. "It would, of course, be irresponsible not to think ahead this way. But it's certainly not going to make the Israelis any less anxious."
  • Air Strike Not An Option Matthew Yglesias rolls his eyes at the inevitable suggestion that strategic bombing could halt the nuclear program. "Obviously, we could degrade their research program by blowing some stuff up, but that would likely lead the Iranians to intensify their efforts. But there's no way to use air power to fully halt such a program. For all we know, bombing will accelerate the pace of advances by changing the Iranian political calculation. "
  • Iran Has No Desire to Cooperate Conservative blogger Allahpundit thinks that Iran's refusal is especially galling given how soft the deal was to begin with. "In fact, the biggest absurdity here is that this deal was likely to achieve next to nothing even if Iran had agreed to it. Danger Room estimated last week that, given current Iranian capabilities, had they shipped the bulk of their uranium to France or Russia they probably could have replenished their supply in as little as three or four months. The fact that they turned Obama down anyway only goes to show how resolute they are about not making concessions to the west, even if those concessions are meaningless in practice." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan agrees but is more optimistic about the possibility of sanctions.
  • 'Existential Dread' For Israel vs. Iran The Wall Street Journal's Yossi Klein Halevi insists that tension between Israel and Iran is near a boiling point. "In the last few years, Israelis have been asking themselves two questions with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail? And can we inflict sufficient damage to justify the consequences?" he asks. "Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran's nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country's early years: Ein breira, there's no choice."
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