There are also great dangers if the interim agreement under the Joint Plan of Action is succeeded by another interim agreement or even if the current negotiating window is extended by another six months. The administration will be sorely tempted to let negotiations continue to drag on, hoping that the Iranians will relent and drop their resistance to any meaningful rollback of their nuclear program. But the current lull during the “freeze” on Iranian nuclear development limits only some nuclear activities; the Iranians continue to build other essential elements, such as improving the efficiency of centrifuges. As centrifuge-enrichment capacity increases, Tehran’s ability to construct clandestine enrichment sites alarmingly grows. (The lull also has let the Iranian economy improve; inflation is down and their currency has strengthened, further reducing our leverage.) Time is not on our side.
While the impact of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) on Iran’s calculus can be debated, the Iranian leadership today appears to be under less compulsion to compromise now than at the outset of the JPA interim period on January 20, leaving wide gaps between the two sides on the parameters for a comprehensive settlement. These gaps must be overcome quickly to secure a peaceful negotiated solution that prevents Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability.To achieve this, U.S. diplomatic engagement must be accompanied by greater pressure.Iranian concessions will only come if Tehran believes it has more to lose than its counterparts, should negotiations fail. To peacefully prevent a nuclear Iran, American policymakers must use all available instruments of coercive diplomacy to restore credibility to their mantra that the United States is keeping all options on the table. They must do this promptly and resolutely.
On most key issues, Iran’s apparent parameters for a final deal would be unacceptable for the United States, including: maintaining its current level of centrifuges (and eventually expanding it); keeping its heavy water reactor at Arak; and insisting that any restrictions on its nuclear program begin to ease after only several years. Given Tehran’s need to remove remaining sanctions permanently, American diplomats could try to reduce Iran’s demands by insisting that such relief will occur only gradually and concomitant to concrete actions by Iran that irreversibly roll back its nuclear program and resolve critical questions about its past activities that triggered such sanctions in the first place.Because Iran has a strong incentive for sanctions to be relieved, the United States should also threaten even deeper sanctions against energy and other vital economic sectors that would take effect if an acceptable deal is not concluded by the interim deadline. Rather than threatening to veto such measures, the White House should instead capitalize on sanctions leverage by making the case publicly for why such conditional measures do not violate the interim deal.
The Administration could put the pressure back on Iran by seeking Congressional review and approval for any comprehensive settlement. A bipartisan consensus in Washington would communicate U.S. resolve to walk away from the table without an acceptable final deal, thus limiting the range of Iranian demands to which the United States might feasibly agree and undercutting Iran’s incentive to play for time. . . .The United States already has sufficient capability in the region to exercise the military option, including 35,000 troops in the region as well as significant air and naval assets. However, the credibility of that option is also a function of the perceived U.S. willingness to use it, should diplomacy fail. To this end, American policymakers and officials should clarify and strengthen their declaratory policy, to underscore the seriousness of their stated intention to keep all options on the table. This could include Congressional hearings on the feasibility of the U.S. military option. It could also include statements that: highlight, rather than repeatedly downplay, the viability of the military option; publicly support the right of U.S. allies to defend themselves if an acceptable deal is not reached; and publicize advanced U.S. military capabilities, including the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bunker buster designed specifically to neutralize targets like Iran’s deeply-buried illegal nuclear facilities. Deployments or exercises could reinforce this message of readiness, similar to when the United States responded to North Korean nuclear threats by flying B-52 strategic bombers over the southern half of the Korean peninsula in March 2013. . .[And] the United States could generate additional leverage by transferring MOP bunker busters to Israel. Because Israel currently lacks aircraft to carry the MOP, the United States would need to transfer an appropriate delivery capability as well.