The threat of an Israeli strike against
Israel's escalating rhetoric is understandable: The nation's leaders have good reason to fear a nuclear-armed Iran would act on its vows to destroy the Jewish state. If the United States were similarly threatened, it would be unlikely to show restraint.
But Israel's saber-rattling is nonetheless worrying to President
No one wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the regime would greatly embolden it to threaten Israel and its other neighbors and to export terrorism around the world. It could also spark a regional arms race in which
It's unclear whether Iran would ever give up its nuclear weapons capability, no matter how much pressure is brought to bear through diplomatic and economic means. President Obama came into office pledging to open a dialogue with the mullahs, but his overtures were rebuffed. At this late stage, if the administration wants to avert a dangerous conflict in the region that could derail the fragile economic recovery and send oil prices sky high, it must act swiftly to open a channel of communication with Iran that produces results.
Though the stakes are high, an agreement between the U.S. and Iran that would ensure Israel's security while allowing Tehran to pursue its nuclear program for peaceful purposes may still be achievable. It would require the U.S. to formally recognize the legitimacy of the Islamic republic in exchange for Iran's cooperation on regional issues in
There are, of course, huge obstacles to the realization of such a plan, not least of which is the profound distrust of each other both nations would have to overcome. Iranian leaders' fear of regime change is based on historical precedent: The U.S. was behind the 1954 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, and it backed
Given that history of mutual hostility, even if a deal is possible, there's still the question of the timing of any agreement. The Obama administration will have to make a pragmatic calculation whether Iran will be more likely to reach a deal before or after an Israeli strike. Similarly, the Iranians will have to decide whether they think they can get a better deal before or after they build a bomb.