The Obama administration this week was strongly defending an international deal with Iran that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing international sanctions, as critics at home and in Israel blasted the pact as an act of appeasement. The six-month agreement—a first step toward a long-term deal aimed at preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon—calls on the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent purity, a level sufficient for use in energy plants but not for bomb-making. Its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, meanwhile, would be converted into a form that cannot readily be used for military purposes. Iran also agreed to halt work on its plutonium-producing Arak reactor, and accept daily monitoring of its nuclear facilities by international inspectors. In return, the U.S. and five other participating nations agreed to provide up to $7 billion in sanctions relief. “We have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement,” said President Obama. “I believe we must test it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted furiously to the deal, which he said gave Iran concessions without forcing it to completely abandon all nuclear materials. He called the agreement a “historic mistake” that made “the world a much more dangerous place,” likening it to a deal that North Korea secretly violated on its path to building nuclear weapons. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer echoed Netanyahu’s stance, and warned that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were considering defying the president to pass additional sanctions on Iran.
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What the editorials said
The “canyon-sized holes” in Obama’s deal make an Iranian bomb inevitable, said The Wall Street Journal. The agreement lets the Islamic Republic keep its 10,000 operational centrifuges. “Why does Tehran need so many centrifuges if not to make a bomb at the time it pleases?” The mullahs are also allowed to continue enriching uranium to 5 percent, even though at that level, it can be quickly converted into weapons-grade material.
Those issues will be addressed in any later, more comprehensive deal, said The New York Times. Of course, there’s no guarantee that such an agreement will ever be signed. In the past, Iran kept its “nuclear program secret for nearly two decades before it was uncovered in 2002 and has resisted full disclosure of its activities.” But if Iran cheats or fails to agree to a final deal, the eased sanctions can be quickly “reversed and new and tougher ones imposed.”
What the columnists said
This time, Iran is serious about cutting a deal, said David Gardner in the Financial Times. The country’s “economy is hemorrhaging because of sanctions”—inflation is at 40 percent, its currency is in free fall, and only a trickle of oil is being exported. With discontent growing among its mostly young, secularized population, the regime knows it must curb its nuclear program and reintegrate with the world, or risk an Arab Spring–style uprising.
The mullahs are indeed on their knees, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, which is why it’s so foolish to ease sanctions now. “If at this point of maximum economic pressure we can’t get Iran to accept a final deal that shuts down its nuclear program, how in God’s name do we expect to get such a deal when we have radically reduced that pressure?” To expect “total nuclear capitulation’’ from the Iranians is naïve, said Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg.com. Having seen its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan invaded by the U.S., the regime has decided that it is in its “best long-term interest” to be able to build a nuclear bomb at short notice.
Skepticism is certainly warranted, said Albert Hunt, also in -Bloomberg.com. But if the U.S. or Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities, Tehran and its Hezbollah allies could respond with a wave of terrorist attacks, igniting a regional Middle East war. That’s why Obama and U.S. allies are gambling that the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani marks a real turning point, and that Iran is willing to curtail its nuclear program—at least for now. “It would be a less than perfect deal. But which alternative would be better?”
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