The accord that would temporarily freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief is an unavoidable step in a process that has a long way to go.
It is a six-month deal with the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, world powers that must be willing to react appropriately if Iran breaks, or even bends, its promise.
Israel is furious. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the interim agreement a “historic mistake.” He should recognize it as a historic opportunity for keeping Israel’s mortal enemy, Iran, from building nuclear weapons without resorting to military action. The benefits to both sides in concluding a workable, permanent agreement are such that it’s worth a temporary easing of sanctions.
For Iran’s part, it will enjoy billions of dollars in financial relief from economic sanctions while preserving most of its nuclear infrastructure during negotiations on a permanent agreement. Such concessions were the price of bringing Iran to the negotiating table, but during the new talks, the United States will maintain the core oil and banking sanctions that made Iran willing to talk.
To world leaders, the interim agreement won key concessions: Iran will discontinue enriching uranium beyond 5 percent and neutralize uranium enriched beyond that point; allow greater access to inspectors, including daily access at the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites; and stop development of the Arak nuclear plant, which could produce plutonium for weapons.
Iran must believe that these things are worth giving up in exchange for sanction relief worth $7 billion. That money would be doled out over the course of the six months of talks on a permanent agreement, giving Iran incentive to keep working toward a deal.
The interim agreement does not dismantle important aspects of Iran’s nuclear capacity or potential. It does not even require Iran to give up its “right” to enrich uranium. Those issues will be negotiated in the next six months. The deal sets limited goals for a limited time in return for limited relief. It offers breathing room with the hope that Iran will see it has more to gain from cooperating with the West than it does from building nuclear weapons.
If Iran does not uphold its end of the bargain, it will face tougher sanctions and a renewed threat of military action.
Again, this is a temporary deal. There is a risk in easing sanctions, but there is a bigger risk in going down the road to military action. The agreement is built on hope, and based on Iran’s history it is difficult to be optimistic. But it is worth trying.