Skip to main content

Is Iran ready to deal on nukes?

By Terri S. Lodge and Matthew Wallin, Special to CNN
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Terri Lodge, Matthew Wallin: Iran president Rouhani shows signs of wanting to resolve nuke issue
  • They say UN General Assembly this month will offer chance to affirm this. Do his words matter?
  • They say Iran, U.S. both testing. U.S. will want concrete actions before easing sanctions
  • Writers: Congress must be flexible and be willing on diplomatic solution

Editor's note: Terri Lodge is the director for Nuclear Security and Matthew Wallin is a fellow at the American Security Project, a nonpartisan think tank.

(CNN) -- As the toll of international sanctions on Iran continues to mount, Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has signaled his government's interest in addressing the world's concerns over his nation's nuclear program, and easing the pain on the Iranian economy. Rouhani's recent statements, tweets and appointments have underscored a possible willingness to resolve the nuclear problem. He told NBC News Wednesday that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.

At the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week, Rouhani is expected to affirm his interest in resolving the issue.

In another positive step, President Barack Obama and Rouhani have exchanged letters—the first direct communication at this level between the two countries in many, many years. Explaining that this does not yet mean there is a breakthrough, President Obama indicated that he expects negotiations to be difficult and take time.

"Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult," Obama said to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy."

Terri Lodge
Terri Lodge
Matthew Wallin
Matthew Wallin

Indeed, there is little reason to necessarily believe that everything has suddenly changed for the better. After years of intransigence, many wonder whether Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who holds overwhelming authority, is ready to make honest concessions.

Furthermore, it's not yet clear whether Iran understands that a mere change in rhetoric won't mean automatic sanctions relief. In fact, only its concrete actions to resolve the nuclear questions will lead to a meaningful relief of sanctions. And when they come, those actions may initially be incremental, negotiated to test the willingness of both sides to take confidence-building actions that will lead to more comprehensive progress.

The United States should not dismiss Iran's rhetoric and its apparent litmus testing as insignificant. Though a deal will be difficult, as many negotiations are, it's not impossible to reach an agreement if Iran is willing to take the steps necessary. That, of course, is still a big "if."

Iran human rights lawyer freed
The freedom to tweet in Tehran
Israel on Syria, Iran: Words not enough

It's no secret among diplomats and experts what a final deal will probably look like: Iran will retain a small level of enrichment capability under a very strict regimen of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will also have ready access. So far, such a deal has never been in reach; the United States and its diplomatic partners still have a long way to go. Because of this, some would rather continue to fight for complete Iranian capitulation and zero ability to conduct nuclear activities of any sort, a result that does not allow the Iranian regime a chance to "save face."

This "all-or-nothing" outcome is simply not realistically attainable by means short of a major military intervention. As a result, the United States should be exhausting all diplomatic opportunities to reach an agreement that best preserves its security and the security of the region, while allowing the Iranians a chance to reach a settlement they can live with.

Congress has an important role in this delicate moment. Though the United States should remain skeptical of Iranian intentions, it should not turn down an opportunity that may be presenting itself. One of its biggest bargaining chips is the congressional sanctions, the presence of which, at this point, could be misinterpreted as an unwillingness to support a diplomatic solution.

Congress needs to be flexible in its approach and refrain at this time from tacking on additional sanctions or authorizing military force if it is serious about giving diplomacy the room it needs to operate and not missing a possible opening.

Ultimately, it won't be easy to resolve a decade's worth of issues over Iran's drive for a nuclear capability. But there is also no better time to put the Iranians to the test and see if they are truly willing to play ball and match their actions to their rhetoric on the diplomatic scene.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Terri S. Lodge and Matthew Wallin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT