The Iran nuclear negotiations have reached a stalemate. The White House has asked for an extension, and Congress should give it additional time. But the latest stumble offers an occasion for some searching questions. Is the best we can hope for a series of interim agreements that curb Iran's program but do not resolve the fundamental issues? Is our coercive strategy sufficient for dealing with a revolutionary state on the march in the Middle East? Can Iran's nuclear ambitions even be affected by diplomatic mediation?
The international community has been negotiating with Iran over its illicit nuclear program not for six months but for 11 years. Along the way a variety of justifications have been offered for the lack of progress in the talks. Initially, when Germany, France and Britain led the discussions, it was suggested that only U.S. participation could produce a resolution. When the United States joined the so-called P5+1 delegation under the Obama administration, it was claimed that only bilateral talks could break the deadlock. However, Iran's dogmatic negotiator at that time, Saeed Jalili, usually abjured such encounters and was thus easily blamed for the impasse. If only Iran were governed by a pragmatic president and represented in the bilateral talks by a subtle diplomat who spoke the language of moderation. Then came the election of Hassan Rouhani and the appointment of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, which yielded a modest interim agreement — and yet another deadlock.