DEALING WITH IRAN is complex for many reasons. This is not a made-up country whose borders were dictated by politicians in the last century; it is Persia—the great empire that fought with Greece before the beginning of the Christian era, the Asiatic power that imperial Rome was never totally able to subdue. From that long history emerged a people with a deep sense of proud history and a realization of national sovereignty that helps guide the destiny of the nation and its peoples.
I recall a conversation years ago with then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami about nuclear power. He was not in favor of creating weapons of mass destruction, but he clearly promoted Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. To deny this right is an affront to national sovereignty, he argued.
After the unfortunate history of the past government, once again Iran is governed by a president and a cabinet that call for peaceful nuclear development and for a new and more open relationship with the West. This is the fact that has emerged into a clear interim agreement between the so-called P5+1—the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. As reported, the goal of ongoing negotiations is to open the door to a 24/7 inspection of nuclear facilities and other guarantees to ensure that Iran will not make nuclear weapons.
The fact that the new president and his foreign minister are talking with the United Nations, and with Western leaders in particular, gives the world a better check on the nuclear ambitions of Iran than we have on any other nation in the region that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. If in the terrible, and most unlikely, event that a government of Iran should change its position and decide to build a nuclear weapon, the world would know almost immediately because of the security and surveillance that are likely to be part of a permanent agreement. In such an eventuality, it would be possible to reinstitute the former sanctions or even impose more stringent ones.