As Iran’s exhausting charade of stalling and doubletalk drags toward an “extended” November deadline, Tehran is testing whether the ascent of ISIS may benefit its nuclear ambitions.

Iran delivers the message that it will support the battle against ISIS, if economic sanctions are relieved.  Put differently:  if the free world lifts the sanctions that keep its nuclear program in check, then Iran will help defeat ISIS, the most barbarous group of extremists to surface in recent history.

There is a vile irony here.  Iran, it seems, believes it has found a way to profit from ISIS’s savagery.  Its leaders invite peace-loving peoples to look into the future of the Middle East, and conjecture the lesser of two grave and intolerable threats:  a more powerful ISIS, or a nuclear Iran.

It’s like being in a filthy restaurant, and the waiter asks whether you prefer horse manure or arsenic on your burger.

Tehran’s leaders are, it seems, willing to grasp at anything they might use as a bargaining chip.  So much for Mr. Rouhani’s charm campaign, but let’s be honest: the tweets hadn’t fooled many people anyway (and as an aside, it is interesting to note that Iran blocks its own citizens from Twitter).  Diplomats who a year ago were willing to set skepticism aside and devote their energy to negotiating with Tehran are learning that their efforts have accomplished little, if anything.

Indeed, the history of Iran tap-dancing its way through vacuous nuclear talks is an old story.  In 2004, the IAEA rebuked Iran for failing to cooperate with its inspectors. In 2005, Iran refused to suspend enrichment-related activities, despite an earlier pledge to do so.  If this sounds like something you heard very recently, it is because about a month ago Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide the IAEA with information about past nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.  Yet, through these years of cat-and-mouse tactics, Iran’s nuclear program has steadily crept forward.  Does Tehran consider this good faith negotiation, or simply buying time from naive and indecisive optimists?

Iran implores peace-loving nations to “trust” it.  Really?  Trust the same Iran that the U.S. State Department designates as a state sponsor of terrorism?   Trust the same Iran that has openly threatened to eliminate Israel?  Trust the same Iran that supplies arms to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria’s Assad?  If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, can we sleep soundly knowing its nefarious role as a supplier of arms to the worst among terrorist groups?  Not to mention the risk that Iran will itself use such weapons for heinous purposes.

No, trust has no place in this discussion.

Certainly, Iran’s engagement in the fight against ISIS is to be encouraged–it could prove very helpful, and good things, perhaps even game-changers in Iran’s relationship with the West, might come from it.  But if Iran wants to gain trust, it cannot do so by playing an odious bargaining chip to advance its nuclear program.  In the meantime, ISIS can and will be defeated with or without Iran’s help.

And the fact is that Iran already has its own very compelling reasons to oppose ISIS without the West peddling favors for it.  Iran, a Shiite majority state that’s only a border away from the Sunni-led ISIS, has plenty to fear from ISIS’ expansion.  ISIS is also a serious threat to Tehran’s loyal friend and ally, Syria’s Assad.

We’re on the right track here, with a growing international coalition against ISIS, and continuing to press economic sanctions as an incentive for Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.  International sanctions have had a profound effect on Iran’s currency and inflation rates, and Iran’s extremist leaders know their time will be limited if they preside over a dysfunctional economy.

Free nations have the economic power to effect considerable change through non-military means.  We need to use that power to maximum effect when it can deter and avoid bloodshed.  But economic sanctions do not have immediate impact, they work only gradually.  As Iran gets closer to fulfilling its nuclear ambitions, time runs shorter and the viability of economic sanctions as a potential solution diminishes, leaving only military options.  We must hope it doesn’t get to that point–better yet we must be proactive to that end, so that military measures will only be taken if the most robust economic measures have failed, or time has run too short.

The time has now come for concrete and verifiable terms to ensure that Iran is dismantling its capability to develop nuclear weapons.  No more delays and vacuous assurances.  The freedom and peace-loving peoples of the world cannot afford to trust Iran any more than they can afford to trust ISIS.