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What should U.S. policy toward Iran be in order to prevent further development of its nuclear program?

Question submitted by Aaron Marks, from Staten Island, New York, March 18, 2013

Answered by: Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

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Since the discovery of illicit Iranian nuclear facilities in 2002, the United States has sought to mobilize an international coalition to address the Iranian nuclear challenge through various coercions and incentives. UN member states agree that Iran is entitled to a civilian nuclear program for purposes of energy generation, but they require assurances that such a program is not going to be misused for military purposes.

On the coercion front, the United Nations Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, and conform to its international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The failure of Iran to adhere to these resolutions has led to imposition of debilitating economic sanctions that have done enormous damage to Iran's ability to export its oil.

This coercive path has also been complemented by a diplomatic track that has resulted in numerous meetings between Iranians and officials from the so-called 5 plus 1 (Britain, France, Russia, China, the United States and Germany). The great powers have offered Iran various incentive packages, including sanctions relief, should it reconsider its nuclear strategy.

The most suitable path remains a combination of pressure and incentives to dissuade Iran from its contemplated nuclear course. Whatever the limitations of this process maybe, it still remains the most reliable path to resolving the Iran conundrum.