The Iran bargain

President Obama announces a potential nuclear deal with Iran on Thursday.
President Obama announces a potential nuclear deal with Iran on Thursday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Although it’s far too early to proclaim the nuclear “framework” deal between Iran and five world powers an unqualified success, negotiators have delivered an agreement with surprising specificity that deserves serious consideration.

Indeed, until the final details are presented to the public a few months hence, it will be impossible to either condemn or endorse a deal that has been years in the making and that, at the very least, brought Iran to the negotiating table and temporarily halted its nuclear weapons program.

That’s more than can be said for all the years of bluster and posturing that preceded the Obama administration’s concerted effort to find a diplomatic solution to a problem that has bedeviled the international community for more than a decade.

Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal unveiled Thursday is not final until all the details are nailed down, an important point to keep in mind going forward. Commendably, the first reaction of Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, was measured skepticism rather than outright dismissal, saying he wanted to learn more before rendering judgment.

Other members of his party, however, have been consistently negative, even before the details were disclosed. Judging the agreement with Iran on a purely political basis does a disservice to their constituents and to the country at large.

On the basis of yesterday’s bare-facts outline, Iran appears to have made the kind of major concessions the international community has been seeking without success for years. These are just a few of the highlights:

▪ A reduction of installed centrifuges in Iran from about 19,000 today to 6,104.

▪ Agreement not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent (instead of 20 percent) for at least 15 years.

▪ Agreement to convert Iran’s once-secret Fordo facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only — into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.

There is much more, all of it designed to give the United States and other world powers confidence that Iran won’t produce nuclear weapons. Can Iran be trusted to fulfill its part of the deal? Of course not, which is why the agreement requires rigid inspections by international inspectors.

Whatever anyone thinks of the outcome of the talks at this stage, the result must be weighed against the costs of failure. They could be steep.

Critics will be eager to find fault regardless of the progress that’s been made. But demanding a deal tantamount to surrender by Iran, such as having it totally dismantle its nuclear program, even for peaceful ends, was never in the cards. No deal is perfect, and neither is this one, but it should be judged on the merits and on the content — and keeping the bleak alternatives in mind.

In return for the concessions made by Iran, the world powers have agreed to lift the severe economic sanctions that brought Iran to the bargaining table. That’s the nature of any negotiation, a quid pro quo. But if Congress throws a monkey wrench into the process for political reasons and the effort collapses, Iran will feel free to resume its drive to obtain nuclear arms, and nations like China and Russia whose participation in the sanctions was crucial, may not be willing to revive them.

The only alternative then, as President Obama noted, would be war. The consequences of such a course are ultimately unknowable, but probably dire.