Iran and a group of countries known as the P5+1 countries (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, France plus Germany) are headed back to the negotiating table, welcome news that may lead to a breakthrough on Iran's nuclear program. Significant challenges remain to bridge differences and overcome decades of suspicion and mistrust, but these talks deserve our full support. A few months ago, talks seemed dead and chatter about Tehran's nuclear program centered on when, not if, Israel would attack Iran.
What has changed? First, economic sanctions against Iran are affecting the country's economy. Iran's ability to import and export goods has been curtailed, its financial sector is under pressure, and its currency is significantly devalued. The full weight of sanctions, including a European Union oil embargo, will be felt this summer.
Second, Iran is more isolated than ever before. Syria is in no position to help it, and Iran's traditional U.N. Security Council defenders - Russia and China - are curbing ties.
Third, prospects of an Israeli strike only increase as the weeks pass. While American support for our ally Israel is steadfast, such a strike could lead to a broader regional war. The P5+1, led by European Commission Vice President and High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton, drew Iran back to the table with a letter to Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, offering to "engage seriously in meaningful discussions." Iran responded positively, which led to an April 14 meeting with the P5+1. The outcome was modest - an agreement to further negotiate on May 23 in Baghdad - but represented the first substantive dialogue with Iran in more than a year. By all accounts, the discussion was serious and Iran came prepared to discuss its nuclear program. The tone was markedly different from previous talks in 2011 when Iran insisted sanctions be lifted before addressing its nuclear program.
It remains to be seen if the talks will lead to concrete steps from Iran. They must - the window for a diplomatic solution is rapidly closing. The world community must see real progress and tangible results. Iran must demonstrate it is moving away from becoming a nuclear armed state. The outlines of an agreement are clear: Iran would halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, close its Fordow uranium enrichment plant and move its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. It would cap future enrichment at 5 percent and all nuclear activities, facilities and stored material would be accessible to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In return, the P5+1 and the international community would gradually lift sanctions and possibly provide Iran with equipment and material for a civilian nuclear power program and medical purposes. The United States could affirm that it does not seek regime change. As Iran fulfills its obligations and takes verifiable actions to answer questions about its nuclear program, we could respond in kind.
Iran's supreme leader has said his nation does not seek nuclear weapons. These negotiations are an opportunity to prove that.
Some argue Iran has no intention of curtailing its nuclear program and that any talks are bound to fail, but I believe circumstances finally may be right to negotiate an agreement.
But given the looming threat of an Israeli military strike and the potentially catastrophic reaction in the Middle East, a diplomatic solution offers the best outcome for Iran, Israel and the international community. We must support those efforts.