Others’ Opinion: Just the first step

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, November 26, 2013

—The Star Tribune

Now comes the hard part. Not that reaching an interim agreement with Iran over its potential nuclear weapons program was easy. In fact, it took dogged diplomacy well before Geneva to get to the six-month deal that creates time to negotiate a permanent accord between Iran and six major world powers.

The difficulty is reflected in the fact that the agreement is imperfect. But it is better than many possible alternatives, including allowing Iran to get closer to having the ability to use a nuclear weapon.

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Congress should resist imposing new sanctions. Doing so not only would unravel the interim deal, it would alienate allies essential to ensuring the existing sanctions work. And America’s allies in the Mideast should acknowledge that constructive diplomacy with Iran could pay dividends in several other crises plaguing the region, including ­Syria’s civil war and the trajectory of Afghanistan after the U.S. drawdown in 2014.

The most important aspect of the deal is that it lengthens the time frame it would take for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so. But not by much — maybe only two months — and Iran retains its centrifuges, although it cannot install new ones and those in place but unused cannot be started up. Iran has to stop enriching uranium at 5 percent, and dilute or convert into oxide its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.

The deal also prohibits new advances at the Natanz, Fordow and Arak nuclear facilities. And Iran agreed to face daily inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to determine compliance. “Trust, but verify,” as President ­Ronald Reagan rightly said of Soviet-era accords.

In exchange, the United States agreed to provide up to $7 billion in sanctions relief, including unfreezing about $4.2 billion in oil revenue. The vast majority of the international sanctions regime would remain.

It’s far from the ideal, which would have Iran erase all doubts by abandoning its program altogether. The reality that Iran is unwilling to do so is why the brinkmanship exists in the first place. Diplomacy is not a dictate: Compromises are necessary from both sides. And just as the agreement faces hostility at home, it may be hard for Iran’s negotiators to sell it to hard-liners in Tehran.