The interim deal the Obama administration helped reach with Iran marks the best opportunity to peacefully resolve the crisis over the country's nuclear program. The accord with the six world powers calls for Iran to temporarily freeze its nuclear program in exchange for limited concessions and a timetable for reaching a more comprehensive and lasting agreement. While a final deal may be tough to complete, this path is clearly better than a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Now Tehran must show it is serious.
The deal is intended as a first step toward a larger nuclear pact to be negotiated over the next six months. It halts the installation of new centrifuges, requires Iran to dilute its stockpile of higher-grade uranium (which is needed to produce a weapon) and caps the enrichment of higher-grade fuel. Major work at the Arak heavy-water plant is suspended for six months, and Iran is barred from testing or producing fuel for that reactor or putting it in operation. Iran also agreed to an unprecedented level of monitoring of its nuclear sites by international inspectors, making it all but impossible for Tehran to hide any weapons program. This is a meaningful agreement that provides both sides with the time and confidence-building steps necessary to pursue an enduring deal.
Critics in Congress and overseas, especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are blasting the agreement as a mistake. While the crippling effect of economic sanctions brought Iran to the bargaining table, sanctions are a tool, not a policy goal, and this diplomatic route is clearly preferable to continuing to face off with Iran. Though Tehran has a terrible record of transparency, this agreement would help bring Iran's nuclear program into the open through more intrusive inspections. By easing sanctions, which could return $7 billion to Iran's economy over the next six months, the United States is holding out a bone for Iranian moderates in the new government of President Hassan Rouhani, which could open lines of diplomacy across a range of issues from Syria to counterterrorism. And the talks provide a framework to bring Iran more fully into the global community. None of this can be accomplished through the threat of force alone.
The six-month timetable provides a reasonable time frame and an end date to negotiations. While the interim accord could be extended, both sides have face-saving reasons for moving in good faith toward a final deal. And new sanctions are always an option later on; if anything, the interim agreement raises the stakes for both sides to have something tangible to show for the diplomatic effort. Iran's new government would be foolish to test the allies' resolve. This deal forces the Iranians to move first, stalls the Iranian program for the first time in a decade and gets inspectors in on the ground. The administration seized an opening to resolve this crisis through diplomacy. It needs to be as clear-headed in the months ahead as Iran's true intentions become apparent.