Iran's long-range missile test on Monday, following revelations of a covert nuclear program, further raises the specter of confrontation. Should the U.S. emphasize diplomatic moves such as economic sanctions, or is the threat of military force the last best option? Few seem optimistic that sanctions alone will work: Russia and China, big trade partners with Iran, still appear unmoved. On the question of how to engage with Iran, pundits suggest everything from permitting the development of nuclear power, to toppling Ahmadinejad, to effecting a surprising workaround on sanctions with Saudi Arabia.

  • Allow Non-Weaponized Nuclear Enrichment  Roger Cohen argued that sanctions "won't work" and would only worsen hostilities "The enrichment program has attained sacred status as a symbol of Iranian independence — comparable to oil’s nationalization in the 1950s," he wrote. "You don’t bring down a quasi-holy symbol — nuclear power — by cutting off gasoline sales." And besides, "sanctions feed the persecution complex on which the Iranian regime thrives." The US, then, should "Settle the complex to contain the program" and allow a closely-monitored, non-weaponized nuclear program. "I believe monitored enrichment on Iranian soil in the name of what Obama called Iran's 'right to peaceful nuclear power' remains a possible basis for an agreement that blocks weaponization."
  • Accept War Now, Before it's Nuclear  Eliot A. Cohen in the Wall Street Journal anticipated that war with Iran is now inevitable and that the only real option is to "actively seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic" before it secures nukes and makes that war much deadlier. "A large sanctions effort against Iran has been underway for some time. It has not worked to curb Tehran's nuclear appetite, and it will not," Cohen wrote. "Pressure, be it gentle or severe, will not erase that nuclear program. The choices are now what they ever were: an American or an Israeli strike, which would probably cause a substantial war, or living in a world with Iranian nuclear weapons, which may also result in war, perhaps nuclear, over a longer period of time."
  • Use Nuclear Issue to Address Other Problems  Ray Takeyh noted in the Washington Post that Iran's regime, weakened internally and embarrassed within the region after its disastrous elections, desperately needs to be legitimized. This may be an opening for American interests. "Ironically, Tehran has come to Washington's rescue," Takeyh wrote, suggesting that talks over Iranian nukes could be an opportunity to finally address its sponsorship of global terrorism and abuse of its citizens. "If Iran is truly interested in escaping its pariah status, then it will swallow the bitter pill of such discussions," he wrote, noting that the US successfully executed similar talks with the nuclear-rich Soviet Union during the 1975 Helsinki Accords.
  • Want Sanctions? Turn to Saudi Arabia  Roger Stern and Bernard Haykel advocated in the UAE National for partnering with Saudi Arabia, a powerful force in the region that already wants to limit Iranian influence. The authors pointed out that Saudi Arabia recently helped to oust Hezbollah, Iran's political proxy, from Lebanese leadership. The Saudi oil industry, they argued, could tame Iran in a way that Western sanctions never could. "Saudi Arabia could force a drastic reduction of Iran’s revenue by producing some or all of its four million barrels a day of spare capacity," the wrote. "Iran's Opec production quota violations have approached historic highs, so there is a strong precedent for such a Saudi production increase." Saudi Arabia made a move in the mid-1980s, when its manipulation of the oil market helped plunge the Soviet Union into economic disaster.