Taking first baby steps toward a responsible Iran, safer world

Few in the halls of Congress or in the capitals of the world community herald the recently negotiated six-month Iranian nuclear arms agreement as any significant breakthrough toward a nuclear-free Iran.

Clearly, it is not. At best, optimists view the U.S-brokered deal as the first of many baby steps toward a more nuclear-responsible Iran. At worst, pessimists view it as another example of Iranian trickery, a con game that benefits the Tehran regime in the short term but holds little promise of preventing Iranian-triggered nuclear madness in the long term.

Nonetheless, it does represent a start in a very, very long path toward greater peace and stability in the troubled Middle East. Therefore calls to torpedo the agreement by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress through resolutions for tougher sanctions and even military action are misguided or at least premature.

The agreement deserves a fighting chance to bear fruit.

Hammered out among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China — and Germany with Iran, the deal slows the Islamist nation’s nuclear development program in exchange for lifting about $7 billion worth of sanctions while a more formal and comprehensive agreement can be worked out. The deadline for that agreement is next May.

Of course, some critics wage credible arguments on the weaknesses and liabilities of this interim agreement. Among them:

This deal does not even come close to meeting the terms of several United Nations resolutions, which specify no sanctions relief until Iran suspends all uranium enrichment.

Under this deal Iran gets sanctions lifted, but it also does not have to transfer control of its enrichment stockpiles.

Iran has never ratified the additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency agreement that would allow inspections on demand, and Iran can oust U.N. inspectors at any time or conceal locations where such development may be taking place.

Nonetheless, under the new leadership of more moderate Iranian President Hassan Rowhani , Iran has made several positive pledges that at the very least will slow its development of nuclear weaponry. Such rapprochement should be respected.

Iran has agreed, for example, to cap its enrichment of uranium at levels well below what’s needed for a nuclear weapon, stop producing or modernizing centrifuges, and stop activity at the heavy-water reactor near Arak, which would be able to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Of course, Iran is notorious for not living up to its pledges and promises. That’s why the U.S. and other superpower signatories to the agreement must follow a spin-off philosophy of former President Ronald Reagan’s popular adage, “Trust but verify.”

Verify, then trust

With Iran, the West must verify, then trust. If Iran proves it cannot be trusted, the deal is out and stricter sanctions are in.

Nonetheless, as many Middle East scholars argue, the alternative to this relatively small agreement could very well lead to a relatively large war.

As the U.S. is finally pulling out of Afghanistan after 13 long years of fighting and bloodshed, our nation must do all possible to avoid taking center stage in yet another conflict across the Atlantic. It’s therefore prudent to give the baby steps of this month’s nuclear arms deal a fighting chance to creep slowly but surely toward a more responsible Iran and a more secure world.

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