Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former US assistant secretary of defense

November 25, 2013

The accord that the United States reached with Iran offers very limited and reversible sanctions relief in return for Iran essentially halting its progress toward making a nuclear weapon. This is a necessary first step that creates six months of space to develop a broader, more comprehensive treaty that will make it impossible for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon in a short period of time without being detected.

This agreement also creates an opportunity for the United States and Iran to once again cooperate on issues of mutual interest and concern. This is what occurred in the 2001-2002 time frame when the United States and Iran worked together on evicting Al Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan, an opportunity ruined when US President George W. Bush cast Iran as a member of the “Axis of Evil” in January 2002.

Is this a perfect deal? Of course not. It was not meant to be. In fact, no nuclear arms deal that the United States has negotiated has ever been perfect. But it is not, as some critics complain, a bad deal. Those critics based their complaints on two main points.

First, Iran retains the ability to enrich uranium and therefore still has the ability to develop a nuclear weapon. True, but as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and others have pointed out: There is no way to completely eliminate every piece of Iran’s nuclear technology unless you wipe every brain in Iran clean. Moreover, the deal has extended the time period for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon by stipulating that Iran cannot add centrifuges and must dilute or convert its 20 percent uranium.

Second, reducing the pressure of sanctions will make Iran less likely to make a comprehensive agreement. Hardly. The sanctions relief is comparatively small, amounting to no more than $7 billion compared to the more than $100 billion in sanctions that are currently in place. Moreover, if Iran does not live up to the terms of this accord or fails to agree to a comprehensive accord, the sanctions will not only be re-imposed, but increased by Congress.