Diplomacy takes time. And when it comes to addressing Iran's nuclear program, Congress needs to give it. Congressional calls for tougher sanctions on Iran just days before talks are scheduled to resume in Geneva this week between the international community and Iran belie the modest progress made earlier this month in drafting a framework for an interim agreement. The Obama administration deserves more time to pursue a diplomatic route, a far preferable outcome than worsening relations or leaving this security risk as a regional matter for Israel and America's Arab allies.
After decades of sanctions that have crippled Iran's oil industry, particularly in recent years, President Barack Obama is right to explore a deal and test the new Iranian regime. Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has set a moderate tone since taking office in August and he has practical reasons to consider a deal slowing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. But talks between Iran and the six major powers — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany — collapsed this month over what Iran said was a lack of regard for its "nuclear rights;" the United States blamed an Iranian lack of nerve. Still, the two sides agreed to meet again beginning Wednesday. Iran also agreed, in the run-up to this next round, to give U.N. inspectors additional access to Iranian nuclear sites.
On Thursday, those inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had slowed its nuclear expansion for the first time in years. That gives confidence that this is a promising window to try to restore relations and strike a comprehensive nuclear deal. And if the new talks fail, Congress can revisit sanctions then.
Israel and other critics of the administration's approach are right that sanctions drove Iran to the bargaining table. But that's exactly what sanctions are meant to do. And now that Iran's there, it's time to explore whether a comprehensive deal is possible. Otherwise sanctions become a never-ending exercise with no end result. Reaching an interim agreement that freezes the most advanced aspects of the Iranian nuclear program in return for a targeted easing of sanctions could create an environment for a comprehensive and peaceful end to Iran's nuclear ambitions. For the price of a few weeks, it's certainly worth a shot.