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Iran: All Options on the Table?

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We hear a great deal of bravado on the best way to respond to the international security threat posed by Iran. The mantra of having "all options on the table" should include the many options beyond just increased sanctions and military force.

It would be very dangerous for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, by flouting Security Council resolutions that demand suspension of all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, Iran undermines respect for international law and erodes confidence in diplomacy. It generates fear in its neighbors, particularly Israel, which in turn threatens violence.

To move away from this dangerous and unstable situation, both Israel and Iran must obtain security. If either feels threatened, progress toward security will be hard to obtain.

First, we must be clear on our goals. US policy is designed to change Iran's behavior regarding its uranium enrichment program and not overturn its government. Iran is a legitimate state, no matter how distasteful its system of government is to us.

Second, we must be clear on our language. While the US would not use nuclear weapons against Iran, there are plenty of Iranians (and others in the world) who aren't so sure. President Obama, and US military leaders, are quite aware that the horrific impact of nuclear weapons on massive numbers of innocent people and their infliction of unnecessary suffering beyond legitimate military objectives takes these weapons off the table. The failure to unequivocally exclude the use of nuclear weapons from being "on the table" allows others to distort our policies, values and norms.

Our military leaders are expressing far more reasonable positions than we hear daily on the campaign trail. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said categorically that he did not consider the Iranian nuclear program an existential threat posed by irrational actors. He went on to say that an Israeli attack would "not be prudent." What the public rarely hears is the strong support from US military leaders of arms control instruments that have consistently enhanced US and international security interests.

Third, we must be thorough about options, including the already-existing agreement to pursue an "effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems." Such a zone was agreed upon by 187 countries that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Later this year, through coordination with the UN, the US, Russia and the UK, Finland will host a conference to begin the creation of this WMD-free Middle East. There are already five such zones, encompassing 114 nations in nuclear weapon-free regional zones.

Israel supports this goal, but insists that comprehensive regional peace is a pre-requisite. Egypt and others insist that such a comprehensive peace requires the establishment of the zone. This "peace first" versus "disarmament first" polarization gets us nowhere. Both processes should be taking place at the same time.

Another option that could materially improve the current situation is reviving the arrangement brokered by Turkey and Brazil last May, rejected at the time by the US, wherein Iran would transfer low enriched uranium in exchange for enriched uranium for medical isotopes.

There could also be a boundary on Iran's nuclear program that would keep its domestic enrichment to no more than 5%. Strict safeguards against nuclear weapons development would have to be tied to reducing sanctions. To achieve such progress in this manner, Iran would have to stop any further threats, of any nature, against the peace and security of Israel.

In the lead up to the Iraq war, the voices of its opponents were largely ignored by the media. Now, as the drumbeats for war on Iran increase, we who espouse effective, security-enhancing, non-military conflict resolution options must not be similarly ignored. It is time that our leaders and our media also put these options on the table.