Iran deal a historic breakthrough

July 14, 2015

After nearly two years of intense and at times tumultuous negotiations, the so-called P5+1 group of world powers (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran have reached a long-term, comprehensive agreement to limit Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities and ensure that it cannot acquire nuclear weapons.

Many observers, including this author, doubted whether such an agreement could be reached. While a final judgment on the deal must await its implementation, what has been achieved to date is remarkable and historic.

The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would verifiably block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—and guard against a clandestine weapons program. The agreement is consistent with, and in some ways stronger than, the framework announced April 2.

The agreement is not perfect. Both sides had to make adjustments to their opening positions. But each side got what they needed, and when implemented, the agreement will be a net plus for nonproliferation and will enhance US and regional security.

Despite these benefits, critics say the United States got a raw deal. They argue that the United States made all the concessions, the agreement is a starting pistol for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and more pressure would convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Some have also expressed concern that the United States gave up too much in allowing the UN Security Council Resolution arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions on Iran to sunset after 5 and 8 years, respectively.

These arguments don’t hold up.

First, it’s clear that Tehran had to retreat from many of its initial demands, including in the areas of the scale of uranium enrichment it needed, the intrusiveness of inspections it would tolerate, and the pace of sanctions relief it would demand. Second, while some of Iran’s Sunni Arab rivals are nervous about the agreement and have announced plans to pursue their own nuclear energy programs, the long-term, verifiable restrictions the deal places on Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities should greatly reduce the incentive of other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Third, there is no viable strategy to secure a “better deal.” The agreement will keep Iran further away from the ability to make nuclear weapons for far longer than the alternative of additional sanctions or a military strike possibly could.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the UN sanctions related to arms and ballistic missiles were put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program. The resolutions make it clear that these sanctions would be suspended when Iran resolved concerns about its nuclear program. Retaining the sanctions on ballistic missiles for 8 years and the arms embargo for 5 years is an important achievement that would also provide additional leverage to ensure Iran complies with its obligations under the agreement.

As Congress now turns to reviewing the deal, it has a solemn responsibility to weigh the deal on its merits and not according to the dictates of partisan politics. The consequences of preventing the United States from living up to its end of the bargain would leave Iran closer to a nuclear weapon and increase the risk of war.