The extension of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program represents a victory for diplomacy. It also gets the world closer to the dual goals of keeping Iran from developing a bomb while avoiding yet another costly war in the Middle East. Through tough, smart and principled negotiations, America is finding a way to have its cake and eat it too.
July 20 was a deadline for either a comprehensive deal or an extension of the interim agreement that froze Iran's program and allowed talks to progress. Because the positions of the two sides started way too far apart -- Iran wants any agreement to carry an expiration date, while the United States and Europe seek a more permanent solution -- the July deadline will come and go without a final resolution.
Critics of the president, many of whom have been clamoring for yet another war in the Middle East, will argue that an extension constitutes a failure of diplomacy. They are wrong. A political settlement that handles issues of such monumental proportions is going to take time. However, time is on the international community's side. The extension is predicated on the continued freeze of uranium enrichment levels that were set back in 2013. This means that Iran is not any closer to having a nuclear weapons capability today than it was before the freeze was established -- in fact, Iran has reduced its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to virtually nothing, as verified by IAEA inspectors.
Those of us who remember the rabid calls for war in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as its destructive aftermath, should be wary of politicians who seek a confrontational approach with Iran. If there is a complete breakdown in talks we will only have two options left: another war at the same time that Iraq and Syria are unraveling, or resign to allowing Iran to enrich uranium without limits. This is exactly the choice that the president's critics are clamoring for when they ask us to abandon negotiations or when they cheer for diplomacy to fail.
A diplomatic resolution will not only bring stability and security for us and our allies, but it could prove the beginning of broader efforts to curtail Iran's more destructive activities in the region. For decades, Israel has sought to degrade the capabilities of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad through military interventions, but with continued Iranian support these groups have only gotten stronger and their missile capabilities have reached farther into Israel. A comprehensive infrastructure of diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran, complete with all manner of economic and political incentives and disincentives, is the only sustainable way for the United States engage and pressure Iran to become a more responsible international actor.
None of this is to claim that a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran will result in an overnight change of behavior in Tehran. However, open channels of communication will guarantee further pathways to pursue our interests in ways that are more sophisticated -- and more effective -- than the choice between empty name-calling and war.
As we move into the final phase of negotiations made possible by this extension, let's hope that sensible voices in both countries finally prevail.
Nathan Gonzalez is Executive Editor of Nortia Press and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project.