With tensions rising over Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has now warned the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz would provoke an American response. Earlier this week, international monitors confirmed that Iran has begun enriching uranium at a new underground plant. The United States and  Europe are tightening sanctions to choke off Iranian oil revenues. On Wednesday, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a bomb attack en route to work, and a government newspaper signaled that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps might retaliate.

Many officials, experts and commentators increasingly expect some kind of military confrontation. No one should want to see Iran, with its contempt for international law, acquire a nuclear weapon. But a military strike on the nuclear facilities would be a disaster.

We don’t know whether any mix of sanctions and inducements could persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. There is another option besides force: negotiations with the United States and other major powers over curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Iran’s fractured leadership so far has not committed to serious talks, but President Obama and his allies have not paid enough attention to that alternative.

The United Nations Security Council demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium more than five years ago. Iran claims it only wants access to nuclear technology for electricity and other peaceful purposes. But that excuse is hollow. The major powers have said that power generation would be guaranteed if Iran abandons its weapons ambitions. Instead, Iran is still enriching uranium and mastering other technologies that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon. According to the latest report from United Nations inspectors, Iran has created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on nuclear triggers and completed advanced research on a warhead that could be delivered by a medium-range missile. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on January 12, 2012 (a version of this editorial appeared in print on January 13, 2012, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Dangerous Tension With Iran).


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