Nuclear proliferation is one of the most serious challenges facing America today. It is only a matter of time before Iran achieves nuclear capabilities. Despite international sanctions aimed at forcing the Islamic Republic to abandon its proliferation activities, Iran has tested various essential components for a nuclear warhead. A nuclear-armed Iran would jeopardize international security and stability.

The direct threat posed by Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon is amplified by the indirect threat posed by a destabilizing multipolar nuclear arms race in the Middle East as countries follow suit to protect themselves from Iranian aggression. The Iranian nuclear threat is no longer a matter of just one country obtaining a weapon; it’s an issue for multiple countries. The United States cannot afford to take that risk.Last year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, H. R. 2194, enabling more action to back up America’s nonproliferation policy vis-à-vis Iran. The United States and the international community are holding Iran accountable for violations of its commitments. But are they doing enough to hold other countries accountable for helping Iran evade sanctions?

Iran has found its most important Middle Eastern ally in Syria—another country on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) nuclear watch list. America must take advantage of the strategic opportunity that the Arab Spring has presented to sever the alliance between Iran and Syria. Since Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces repress the Syrian rebels, a post-Assad government led by the opposition would likely have cold relations with Iran. The regional alienation of Iran could prove useful to U.S. interests in reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity.

The Syrian turmoil presents the United States with an important opportunity to side with Syrians struggling for freedom against a repressive dictatorship allied with Iran that has been one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism for many years. It also offers an opportunity to strengthen relations with Turkey. The Turkish government has openly condemned the violence used against the opposition, sharing common humanitarian and strategic interests with the U.S. If and when Assad is ousted, democratic governance must be established. The U.S. should find a key ally in Turkey in promoting democracy in the region.

While Iran is getting close to succeeding in its nuclear ambitions, the United States is weighing options, including the use of military force, to neutralize this threat. Iran’s hegemonic designs must be countered by actively promoting reform and possibly regime change in Syria to advance America’s broader interests in spreading democracy, peace, human rights, and economic development in the Middle East. Above all, the Obama Administration should raise the cost of Iran’s refusal to discontinue nuclear enrichment and tighten penalties against states and entities that support nuclear efforts in Iran.

America’s leadership must act now—while it still has a chance to isolate Iran and avoid a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Obama Administration must be clear that the United States is fully committed to stopping Iran’s ambitions.

Kelly Maggio is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: