Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Never fear to negotiate — the Iran deal

Four days after the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I'm still channeling quotes from JFK: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

That sage advice from 52 years ago came to mind after reading about the angry objections to the deal negotiated by the United States and European powers with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. While Secretary of State John Kerry touted the deal's limits on Iran's enrichment of uranium and its openness to increased international inspections, the government of Israel and some members of Congress slammed the deal as an open door to Iranian nuclear arms.

The deal is an interim agreement, not a final treaty. In the interim, Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium beyond the 5% level and to dilute the 20% enriched uranium it already has. Along with open inspections of nuclear facilities, the agreement is intended to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to weapons grade and, thereby, prohibit Iranian nuclear arms. In return, the Western powers agree to an easing of some trade sanctions against Iran, including the release of some Iranian money embargoed in Western banks.

One can easily argue that it's an imperfect deal — Iran might find a way to expand its stockpile of 5% enriched uranium and then back out of a permanent agreement. But what international treaty was ever foolproof? The West retains its right to reimpose the sanctions that forced Iran to agree to negotiations in the first place.

Rather than imposing even harsher sanctions on Iran, as some members of Congress have proposed, the United States should recognize victory when it happens. The sanctions worked. Iran was forced to negotiate an end to any nuclear weaponry ambitions it might have had (something the regime never admitted to). The United States' purpose in imposing these sanctions was to force Iran to give up any nuclear weapon plans. That goal has been achieved, at least for the interim. Further negotiations, along with the threat of renewed sanctions, can bring that goal to full realization. Unless Congress decides that what it really wants is not a peaceful relationship with Iran but war.

If a permanent deal with Iran works, the world will be safe from the possibility of Iranian nuclear bombs, and Iranian oil will return to the world market, further stabilizing the cost of energy, with economic benefits worldwide. The United States might even re-establish a cordial international relationship with Iran, something it has not had for more than 30 years. 

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