Taming Tehran

America’s new, flexible stance is a step in the right direction

Paying your dues pays off. The Obama administration apparently realizes the wisdom of this logic and appreciates smart foreign policy, as evidenced by their recent choice to reengage with the U.N. by paying U.N. member dues, unlike the previous administration, which neglected its fiduciary responsibilities to the body. This reconciliatory approach, coupled with the removal of aggressively situated missile defense shields in Eastern Europe, has paid out enormous political dividends in the form of cooperation from other nations on the problem of nuclear weapons in Iran. Specifically, Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev has expressed a new level of receptiveness to the idea of helping the U.S. curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stating, “We believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision... sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

The addition of Russian support in the effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a major victory for the U.S. The Obama administration should capitalize on this moment by drafting up a plan for multilateral intervention that secures a written agreement from Russia and leverages the United State’s position in the battle against nuclear proliferation. The Russian expression of a desire to cooperate comes at a particularly convenient time, considering the recent discovery of a secret Iranian uranium enrichment facility. Clearly, Iran has not been entirely transparent about its nuclear development, and the Obama administration needs to make sure that the U.S. will not be blindsided by the nuclear ambitions of Tehran.

But this does not mean that the United States’ newly buttressed position should be used to antagonize Iran. The volatile nation is not one that responds well to threats or accusations—shortly after the Obama administration’s censure of the Iranian deception, Iran test-fired several short-range missiles in what may be interpreted as a show of force. There is still potential for reconciliation, and the upcoming talks with Iran in Geneva should be defined by neither appeasement nor Axis-of-Evil-era aggression, but rather by a U.S. that is willing to negotiate but is unwilling to tolerate further deception. These talks represent the first direct negotiations with Iran in 30 years and a chance to repair a relationship that has continued to decline into a state of disrepair for the last eight years.

The Iran issue is dauntingly complex and terrifyingly volatile, but not impossible to solve. It is not in Iran’s best interests to start an international conflict when the only one on their side is an Iranian public who questions its own government’s legitimacy. Rather than immediately coercing Tehran, Obama should make sure that he continues to adopt a flexible and multilateral foreign policy through negotiation, not alienation.