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Leslie H. Gelb on How President Obama Should Handle Iran

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
January 30, 2012
Daily Beast

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The United States, Israel, and Europe are inching closer to war with Iran because of what they're doing and what they're not doing. What they are doing is squeezing Iran with unprecedented economic sanctions (which is good); but Western leaders know full well the penalties won't cause Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. What the West is doing is drawing "red lines" that are backing its leaders into untenable and dangerous corners, as well as cornering Iran. What they are not doing is leveraging these economic and military pressures with a negotiating proposal that can curtail Iran's nuclear-bomb-making capabilities without war.

As Western leaders back Iran into a corner and as they are locking themselves into a war policy they haven't seriously contemplated and don't really want, now is the time to offer a deal. The peace package is simple: Iran keeps its uranium facilities but with capabilities to enrich reduced to levels fit only for civilian use. Tehran also agrees to the tightest international verification procedures. The West lifts sanctions gradually as Iran complies with both reconfiguring its nuclear plants and accepts the necessary verification. For sure, President Obama has tried similar proposals before. This time, however, Iran may find that the biting economic pressures make the deal more palatable. For sure, neither I nor anyone else knows whether Iran will accept this time. But I do know this: if we don't at least try the negotiating track, a war of untold uncertainties and dangers can come upon us.

To see why economic sanctions alone won't lead to Tehran's capitulation, try to look at the situation through Iranian eyes. Here's what they see: Pakistan, a country that has already given away nuclear secrets to terrorist and renegade states and which itself could be heading toward a Muslim extremist takeover, got the bomb. We did nothing about it. North Korea, one of the nuttiest states around, which has also given nuclear knowledge to Syria and Pakistan (among others), also acquired nukes. We did nothing about that either. Washington accepted India's nukes and even made special verification arrangements with New Delhi that expressly contradicted the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And of course, Israel has long had substantial nuclear strike capability, and Washington secretly applauds that, as do I, openly.

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