11/11/2013 01:16 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

This Is What a Winning Negotiation With Iran Looks Like

Now is the right time for a nuclear deal that prevents an Iranian bomb. We will not get all we want at the table with Iran -- no negotiation ever sees one side get it all while the other gets nothing. And such a lopsided deal would only invite the loser to later cheat. The right kind of deal, however, would strengthen U.S. national security, increase regional stability in the Middle East and demonstrate that diplomacy -- by using all aspects of American power -- can secure core security objectives.

From all accounts, this is just the type of deal that was on the table in Geneva and that will be the focus of the continuing negotiations. The United States, Europe, Israel and the rest of the world will get additional inspections so that we will have verifiable proof that Iran cannot break out and rapidly build a nuclear weapon without detection. We will see Iran curb its nuclear activities to assuage the most immediate international concerns about these activities. And we will likely be on the path to a more comprehensive deal that will permanently take an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table and disclose the full history of Iran's illicit past nuclear activities.

Washington policy makers should be pleased. But unfortunately, some ideologues are seeking to torpedo a limited nuclear deal with Iran in order to ratchet up the stakes which could drive us into another American war in the Middle East.

We don't need to go there. Let's be clear: Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. But let's also be clear: absent a full military invasion and multiyear occupation of Iran, there is no way to dismantle the entire Iranian nuclear program. A reasonable deal that prevents Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon is the best deal, and one we should take.

The absence of a deal with Iran did nothing to prevent it from increasing its nuclear capacity. That's why Secretary of State John Kerry, at an event in Washington hosted by Ploughshares Fund, spoke directly to the diplomacy skeptics:

Some have suggested that somehow there's something wrong with even putting that to the test. I suggest that the idea that the United States of America (as) a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.

Only one country can truly prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and that is Iran. Iran has the technology, know-how, and capacity to build a bomb. Iran did not acquire this knowledge overnight. The Iranians have developed it over decades. We cannot change this fact. But we can provide the right incentives for Iran to permanently and verifiably take the nuclear option off the table. As American intelligence affirms, Iran hasn't made the decision to build a bomb. We should keep it that way.

The strong international sanctions regime has provided just that encouragement. And the sanctions are now having their desired effect: they have brought Iran to the table in a serious way. The way forward now is a strong deal with Iran that provides the Islamic Republic with an incentive to not build a bomb.

The Obama administration and Congress deserve credit for their patience and persistence. Israel deserves credit for its steadfastness. And the Iranian people deserve credit for choosing a new president who is willing to seriously engage in order to get us to this objective.

All the political elements are in place. Now is the right time for a deal to be struck, and it is clear that the countries negotiating with Iran are playing their strong hand smartly.
If we turn away from a deal, what is the alternative? More sanctions? Fine, but for what purpose? To bring Iran to the negotiating table? If that were the case, then we are already there. Or, is it to hold out hope that the Iranian regime will capitulate? If that's the case, then we should just go straight to military action -- a decision that will embroil the U.S. in another unpopular Middle Eastern war. Most experts agree that such an action may provoke Iran to decide to build a nuclear weapon, possibly destabilizing the entire region and creating the outcome we're trying to prevent.

Now is the moment of truth for Washington. A potential deal would be the first step on a path that will help make America safer. It could also be the best deal we will get. And we would not have given up either the architecture of our current sanctions or our military pressure on the Islamic Republic. But we very well may get a rock-solid verifiable commitment that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.

This is what a winning negotiation looks like.

This piece originally appeared in ThinkProgress.