In my article “Not Time to Attack Iran” (March/April 2012), I made the case for pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge, arguing that, because of the risks and costs associated with military action, “force is, and should remain, a last resort, not a first choice.” Key developments in 2013 -- namely, the election of Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, as Iran’s new president and the signing of an interim nuclear deal by Iran and the United States and its negotiating partners -- reinforce this conclusion. Whatever hawks such as Reuel Marc Gerecht or Matthew Kroenig might argue, it is still not time to attack Iran. Indeed, the prospects for reaching a comprehensive agreement to resolve the nuclear impasse peacefully, while far from guaranteed, have never been brighter.
A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
After decades of isolation, the Iranian regime may finally be willing to place meaningful limits on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions. In Iran’s June 2013 presidential election, Rouhani handily defeated a slate of conservative opponents, including the hard-line nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who had campaigned on continuing Iran’s strategy of “nuclear resistance.” Rouhani, in contrast, pledged to reach a nuclear accommodation with the West and free Iran from the economic burden imposed by sanctions. Rouhani, also a former nuclear negotiator, believes he has the support of the Iranian people and a green light from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reach a comprehensive nuclear accord with the United States and the other members of the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia).
The first step on the road to a comprehensive deal came in November 2013 with an interim agreement in Geneva, in which Tehran agreed to freeze and modestly roll back its nuclear program in exchange for a pause in new international sanctions and a suspension of some existing penalties. The deal represents the most meaningful move toward a denuclearized Iran in more than a decade. It