Since a revolution swept Islamic fundamentalists to power in Tehran in 1979, Iran has developed into a strategic thorn not only in the Middle East but around the world.
It has sanctioned or plotted terror attacks that have killed Americans and Europeans alike, backed Shia proxies like Hamas, Hizbollah and other groups to exert influence in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, backed the Alawite regime in Syria, threatens its neighbors and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Worse, it has been methodically developing a nuclear capability and the long-range missiles to deliver it. Such behavior has made Tehran the brunt of ever harder sanctions that have made Iran’s leadership increasingly unpopular with its own people.
In fact, Haassan Rouhani was overwhelmingly swept to power by promising voters he would trade away the country’s nuclear weapons aspirations in exchange for the West lifting economic sanctions.
That’s prompted an appropriately receptive response from the West, including the United States, sparking hopes of rapprochement, prompting a historic call from President Obama to Rouhani, the first between the two countries’ leaders in 34 years.
Such dialogue is critical, but sanctions and the threat of force must remain options until Tehran takes concrete and verifiable steps to end its nuclear weapons program. Remember, it was the credible threat of force that ultimately convinced Syria to negotiate away its chemical weapons.
Even without nuclear weapons, Iran remains a threat. Changing its antagonistic strategic tune will require savvy diplomacy, many carrots and sanctions backed by the credible threat of hard power.