Despite the considerable achievements of the momentous diplomatic pact with Iran unveiled Tuesday — mainly, a surrender of most of that nation’s nuclear-weapons infrastructure for at least a decade — most Americans are bound to have some misgivings and a lot of questions.
They should. Still, the agreement deserves an honest hearing, politics aside, from Congress and the American public, and any rush to judgment is premature.
That goes for either the immediate embrace of a complicated document of almost 100 pages with a nation that is not trustworthy, or, conversely, the out-of-hand rejection of a deal that the U.S. negotiating team led by Secretary of State John Kerry worked hard to deliver over 22 months of arduous bargaining and occasional shouting matches.
Reaching agreement to freeze Iran’s march toward nuclear capability without resorting to war is a credit to the Obama administration’s persistence. But Mr. Obama must still convince the country that this deal will reduce the danger of a nuclear attack by Iran, and that a rigorous inspection program will verify compliance.
In that regard, some benefits are clear and undeniable.
▪ First, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, probably by shipping most of it to Russia.
▪ Second, the number of centrifuges spinning at the primary enrichment center in Natanz would be reduced by two-thirds.
Together, these two measures would extend to a year the “breakout time” required for Iran to make a bomb, should it abandon the accord. Without an agreement, the current estimate is two to three months.
This is a dramatic shift from the situation the administration faced before it struck an the interim nuclear accord with Iran in 2013. Back then, officials around the world were nervously watching Iran race toward bomb production and wondering whether an effective economic-sanctions plan could be put in place to force it to stop. In the end, led by the United States, economic sanctions worked, with the resulting freeze.
Without verifiable inspections, of course, it’s meaningless. Mr. Kerry said stringent verification measures would remain in place permanently, including inspections of military facilities that Iran’s leadership once declared off-limits on any deal.
Even so, legitimate questions remain over what happens when the “breakout time” begins to shrink a decade hence, over the timing and nature of inspections and whether the inspectors can question the scientists who led Iran’s secret nuclear program.
Among the strongest critics of the agreement is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given the strong level of support for Israel among many Americans, Mr. Netanyahu has a strong hand to play and deserves to be heard. But his early and consistent rejection of a deal, including an ill-timed speech to the U.S. Congress, coupled with his lack of a credible alternative, diminishes his credibility.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is what Iran will do with the economic windfall of up to $100 billion it might receive if economic sanctions are lifted. If all of this goes to support terrorist groups, increased vigilance and support for pro-U.S. interests in the Middle East will be needed.
This agreement is not the end of the road, but rather the beginning of what promises to be, and should be, an arduous debate over its merits. Getting buy-in from Congress is essential, but it’s just as important, if not more so, for the American public to be persuaded that this will enhance our national security and advance our national interests.