Editorials

Deadline nears for Iran

UNDER DISCUSSION: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third form left, during Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland in March.
UNDER DISCUSSION: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third form left, during Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland in March. AP

A rushed, bad deal is more dangerous than no deal at all. So administration negotiators are right to extend the deadline to reach agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

The key date is now Tuesday, two days before the real deadline in the eyes of the Obama administration. That could change again.

But already in the final push to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the issue of inspecting the accomplishments of that nations’ team of university scientists, missile engineers and military officers is emerging as one of the last and most formidable obstacles.

Will inspectors visiting Iran be able, at will, to step into any place they suspect might conceal bomb-related work? If not, the administration should further extend the deadline again if Tehran won’t allow inspectors free access to clear up questions of past nuclear programs.

The decision to extend talks to complete a landmark accord meant to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief should be done slowly and methodically.

If a final agreement between Iran, the United States and five other global powers is reached by July 9, Congress gets only 30 days to review it.

If not, Congress would have 60 days, much more time for critics to pick it apart and marshal opposition against the administration.

While it is the third missed deadline in the last year, deadlines don’t matter as much as the details of a comprehensive pact to stop any ambitions Iran has for nuclear weapons.

One crucial provision is whether Iran will allow full international inspections, including of military sites, to guarantee its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

President Obama was right to say recently that he is prepared to walk away from a deal without a “serious, rigorous verification mechanism.” We couldn’t agree more.

Without strict inspections, it would be asking a lot for Iran’s neighbors — Israel, in particular — to trust that a deal is in their best interests.

Some experts say that a strong inspection system can be devised only if Iran’s leaders come clean about a suspected weapons program before 2003 — something they have refused to do so far. President Obama should not back down on this negotiating point.

The State Department said that with the extension, the United States and Iran would continue measures that include some relief from economic sanctions for Iran and a commitment by its government to freeze some nuclear activities.

Without a final deal, Iran could stockpile enough enriched uranium to build a bomb.

As we said when Mr. Obama announced the framework of the deal on April 2, negotiation is far preferable than the alternatives, which include launching a military strike.

An attack might not be fully effective because many facilities are deep underground, and it could spark a wider war in the Middle East.

It’s true that Iran already is fomenting conflict in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and across the region. Iran, however, would be even more of a regional menace — and a global threat — if it were armed with nuclear weapons.

Done right, a negotiated deal can stop that from happening for years to come. We all need such a deal to be struck. But rigorous verification of Iran’s claims must be part of any deal. That should be non-negotiable.

This editorial first appeared in the Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy newspaper.

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