Steve Chapman

Clearly the Iranian government wants to at least give itself the option of someday building nuclear weapons. But that doesn't mean it will never swallow a compromise that would significantly hinder any attempt to acquire the bomb.

The new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected on a platform of "moderation" with the support of many citizens who detested his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After negotiations last week, a U.S. official told The New York Times, "I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before."

Maybe that person is a silly dreamer asking to be fleeced by the ruthless Iranians. Or maybe Iran has decided the price of keeping its nuclear program is too damn high.

Kirk and Netanyahu think anything short of an Iranian capitulation amounts to futile appeasement. But if the West can't win a complete end to Iran's enrichment of uranium, it may be able to get Iran to limit its enrichment capacity and give up its supplies of near-weapons grade material -- enforced with thorough inspections.

The plausible goal is not to forever shut off any chance Iran will ever get the bomb. It's to make that option harder and more time-consuming.

That may sound inadequate. But delay is the only thing that air strikes on Iranian nuclear sites can accomplish. If the Tehran regime is determined to get nukes, we can't stop it by any means short of occupation.

The question about any settlement is not whether it's perfect, but whether it's better than an air campaign that would embroil the United States in another unpredictable Middle East conflict -- while spurring Iran to redouble its nuclear efforts.

It would be as foolish to insist that any deal is bound to be terrible as it would be to assume it will be wonderful. The only way to find out what is achievable is to negotiate, with our eyes open. The lesson of Munich, after all, is to avoid bad deals, not to reject good ones.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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