Editor's note: Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune news service to give readers a broad view of issues.
Will the international sanctions in place against Iran keep it from developing nuclear weapons? Is Iran likely to develop nuclear weapons?
The world's major powers are playing a delicate diplomatic game to get Iran to prove it is not developing nuclear weapons. Sanctions imposed six months ago on Iran's central bank, and on Iran's sale of oil, have sent the Iranian economy into a tailspin. More sanctions are scheduled to take effect in July.
The basis for this pressure on Iran is clouded in legal and moral ambiguity. Iran is a party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which says that nuclear weapons should not be acquired by countries that do not already have them. Nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is fine, but is subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran allows inspection, but not to every site the inspectors want to visit.
Under the treaty, existing nuclear powers are supposed to negotiate toward nuclear disarmament. But they have dallied. So the powers that developed nuclear weaponry early on are telling Iran it may not do the same.
Iran is enriching uranium to a 20 percent level, and uranium at that level can easily be enriched further, to a level needed for weapons. Iranian officials are quick to point out that enriching uranium is not a violation of the treaty. Iran says it has no plans to build nuclear weapons, and there is no firm evidence that it is moving that way.
To heighten the ambiguity of the situation, a regional state perennially at odds with Iran, namely Israel, already possesses nuclear weapons, and in condition to be launched at any moment.
This gives Iran a perfect reason to acquire them - as a deterrent to Israel. The major impetus to acquire nuclear weapons is to keep an adversary from using them. The Western powers do not pressure Israel to divest of its nuclear weapons.
So while the Obama administration portrays its efforts against the development of nuclear weapons by Iran as keeping the world safe, the uneven pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world clouds its moral authority.
A related criticism is that the United States is simply doing Israel's bidding. A focus on Iran gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the moral high ground, which Israel needs, while it is routinely excoriated in international institutions for taking more and more Palestinian land for settlements.
Iran may perceive the sanctions as being aimed less at its nuclear program than at regime change.
While the Western powers advocate tough sanctions, Russia is calling for an immediate easing of them in preparation for the next round of talks, to be held shortly in Moscow.
Iran, meanwhile, is in apparently serious talks with the IAEA to allow inspection of military sites hitherto closed to inspectors.
Easing sanctions might show the West's good faith and help resolve the nuclear standoff.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University