In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama on Tuesday promised to engage Iran’s new leadership in negotiations to prevent the development of nuclear weapons in that country as part of a broader normalization of relations.
The president was right to say that “the diplomatic path must be tested” despite concerns in this country and Israel that Iran will never abandon its ambitions to be a nuclear power.
An Iran that possessed nuclear weapons would be a deeply destabilizing development. The most commonly cited concern is that Iran might launch a nuclear attack on Israel — an operation that would be suicidal in light of Israel’s own (if unacknowledged) nuclear arsenal.
But a more likely danger is that a nuclear-armed Iran would seek to maximize its political influence in the region, inspiring other states to seek nuclear weapons of their own.
Yet economic sanctions have taken their toll, and in June, Iranians elected as their President Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator who ran as a reformist. Rowhani has suggested that he would be open to creative negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue.
For now, at least, he seems to have the support of Iran’s religious establishment.