How are we to assess the diplomatic opening that seemingly overnight is changing the tenor of the decades-long standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a powerful speech  at the United Nations on Tuesday as he tried to persuade the world that nothing has changed in Iran except one thing: the sanctions policy has worked to make the Iranians realize that confrontation with the West is taking a mighty economic toll.
The Obama administration is right to test the waters. We cannot walk away from the possibility that the Iranian nuclear issue could be resolved diplomatically. But diplomacy must be coupled with prudence.
For one, these sanctions must remain in place. Iran does not get anything for smiling pretty and saying that it wants to resolve the situation peacefully. It only gets something after it backs up its words with deeds, completely ridding itself of the materials needed to produce nuclear weapons.
There must be tight time limitations as well as strict requirements about what Iran must give up in order to lift any sanctions. And the threat of military action must not be taken off the table. Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will go it alone if need be. But it shouldn’t have to come to that.
Netanyahu was criticized in some quarters for delivering too harsh a warning during his meetings in Washington and his address to the United Nations this week. But Israel has the most to lose if the United States and the world get it wrong on Iran.
Iran plays a dangerous role in the region beyond even its nuclear ambitions. As a principal supporter of the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas, it has long acted on the side of terror and destruction in its efforts to achieve regional hegemony.
The danger that Iran is merely playing for time to secretly continue its program is real. After all, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in the mid-2000s when he managed to dupe the world with diplomacy as his country secretly advanced its nuclear weapons program.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, summed up the cautious path we must embark on:
“While we welcome Iran’s diplomatic engagement, it cannot be used to buy time, avoid sanctions, and continue the march toward nuclear weapons capability,” he said in a statement following a meeting with Netanyahu on Capitol Hill.
It’s up to the Obama adminstration, Congress and other key world leaders to ensure that doesn’t happen. We will all be watching closely.