“WASHINGTON — President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have a simple explanation for their surprising success in getting Iran to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure, ship out 98 percent of its nuclear fuel and release five American prisoners: Patient diplomacy, backed by escalating economic sanctions, accomplished more than military action ever could have.
When the final history of this remarkable encounter between Washington and Tehran is written, the story is likely to be far more complex.Yes, diplomacy and economic pressure were critical, but even several of Mr. Obama’s top aides doubted as recently as a year ago that, in the end, Iran’s mullahs and generals would actually dismantle a program in which they had invested both national pride and billions of dollars. Those aides had good reason for skepticism: While all comparisons between North Korea and Iran are fraught, if economic pressure alone could do the trick, Pyongyang would have given up its nuclear program two decades ago.
But Mr. Obama’s strategy had a major coercive element as well. This included covert actions that repeatedly, if briefly, set back the nuclear program and convinced Iranian elites that its secrecy had been compromised. Then there was the fear, in Washington and Iran, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would launch a pre-emptive attack.”