The historic agreement aimed at crippling Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon has enormous potential to make the world a safer place. But there is much to digest about the deal announced Tuesday with the United States and five other world powers, and Congress should use wisely the 60 days it has to carefully vet the details. It is a review that should be based on national security and our nation's long-term interests, not political calculations, campaign sound bites or interference from allies such as Israel.
The headlines of the accord are promising and the result of months of negotiations. The deal extends the time Iran would need to produce an atomic bomb from two or three months to at least one year, which would give the United States and its allies an opportunity to react if the Iranians broke the agreement. It dramatically reduces Iran's supplies of enriched uranium and its stockpile of centrifuges used to enrich uranium gas. It forces significant changes in existing facilities that could be used to help produce nuclear weapons. Those would be positive achievements that are certainly better than the status quo.
As President Barack Obama said, this is an accord that would be based on verification through inspections and enforcement rather than on trust of a nation that previously has proved untrustworthy. International inspectors would be provided regular access to major nuclear sites and monitor Iran's nuclear program for up to 25 years. And there would be a big stick to discourage cheating: Iran is desperate to have the United Nations sanctions lifted that have crippled its economy, and those sanctions could be "snapped back" within 65 days if the terms of the deal are violated.
Like any negotiation, this one has its compromises. A U.N. embargo on conventional weapons sales to Iran would be lifted within five years, and a ban on missile sales would be lifted in eight years. That was particularly important to Russia, which participated in the drafting of the accords, along with Britain, France, China and Germany. And no agreement is going to offer an ironclad guarantee that Iran will not be able to obtain or develop a nuclear bomb decades from now.
Predictably, this agreement is not good enough for Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a "bad mistake of historic proportions" that would give Iran the financial resources to fund terrorist attacks. Obama later called Netanyahu to reassure him that the United States remains an important ally and that he shares concerns about Iran's support of terrorism. But Congress, which overreached by inviting Netanyahu to speak to a joint session earlier this year without consulting Obama, should focus on America's interests in vetting this deal.
Republicans ranging from House Speaker John Boehner to presidential candidates such as former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio also were quick to accuse Obama of jeopardizing national security. But as Obama noted, the international community that is committed to carrying out this agreement is not as committed to indefinitely continuing economic sanctions against Iran. After years of sanctions, there is nothing to suggest that clinging to that strategy eventually would force the Iranian government to give up its nuclear program entirely.
Rather than sniping at the Democrat in the White House, the Republican-led Congress should spend the 60-day review period analyzing the specifics of an agreement that has broad international support. Evaluate the tradeoffs. Analyze the practicality of the inspections and verifications in Iran. Question the assumptions, and help the American people better understand the terms so they can make their own informed judgments. Obama already has promised to veto any changes, so ultimately it would take more than partisan opposition to override a presidential veto and derail this deal.
A seriously flawed agreement is worse than no agreement. But the initial overview of this deal is positive for the nation and for the world. As Congress wades into the details, it should measure them against the present and the possible — not against the perfect.