Clearing the Final Hurdles in the Iran Nuclear Talks

How to get across the finish line...

Today in Lausanne the United States and its partners achieved a major breakthrough in talks to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb. Both sides were able to agree on key principles that will—if the talks succeed—keep Iran’s nuclear program exclusively peaceful and under the watchful eye of international inspectors. This is by far the most promising path to resolving this crisis peacefully.

"Today, after many months of tough, principled diplomacy, we have achieved the framework" for a nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said at the White House. "And it is a good deal."

The progress made in Lausanne by the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China is the surest sign yet that the 18-month-old talks with Iran can reach a successful final agreement that will enhance the security of all. The parties agreed to significantly limit Iran’s uranium enrichment, redesign the Arak reactor, limit Iran’s nuclear research and development, and strengthen international inspections in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the negotiations have not crossed the goal line yet. The next three months will determine if the parties can seal the deal by the end of June, and many speed bumps remain.

The stakes could not be higher. If the talks fail, the alternatives are “wildly unattractive,” former George W. Bush administration official Richard Haass told CNN. Yet many in the U.S. Congress are eager to kill the talks, presumably under the mistaken impression that a better deal is possible if the Obama administration just takes a harder line. In reality, torpedoing the talks with rash congressional action would make it more likely that Iran would accelerate its now-frozen nuclear program, international sanctions would unravel, and pressure to use U.S. military force would rise.

“People in Congress who root for the deal to fail have not thought through the alternatives, which are stark: The Iranian program will be limited diplomatically, or we will have a war,” said Major General (ret.) Paul Eaton, a former U.S. military commander in Iraq.

There is no reason to risk military action, which is not in the interests of the United States, its allies, or its partners in the region—including Israel. Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen and rolled back over the past year, and strong sanctions remain in place. Time is on our side, so let’s use it. Here’s how:

1. Keep Calm and Keep Talking

The first step to a good deal is to realize that there is no significant downside to waiting a few more months to conclude one.

Critics may argue that Iran will use additional negotiating time to get closer to a bomb.

But that possibility was foreclosed by the interim deal agreed to in November 2013. That agreement, the Joint Plan of Action, required Iran to dilute its most worrisome nuclear materials (uranium enriched to 20 percent U-235, which is dangerously close to what is needed to make a bomb) and keep the rest of its program in neutral. Thanks to more intrusive inspections, international monitors have confirmed that Iran is honoring its commitments. The interim deal is working, and will stay in force until June 30.

As a result, in the past year, Tehran has moved away from a bomb, not closer to one, in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Extending the status quo means this trend will continue. This is a much better outcome than having the talks collapse.

The interim deal is good for now, but we still need a long-term agreement that further limits how large a nuclear program Tehran can have, how much nuclear material it can produce, and what kind of activities it can conduct. This is well worth a few more months of talks.

The public agrees. A clear majority of Americans supports a nuclear deal with Iran, according to the Washington Post.

2.Congress: Keep Your Powder Dry

Despite this public support, Republicans in Congress are trying to derail the talks before they arrive at the station—and before we know the details. Congressional Democrats must not allow this to happen, and they have the power to stop it.

Just look at the March letter 47 GOP senators sent to Iran, which, by warning that Congress could change the terms of the agreement “at any time,” was clearly meant to scuttle the negotiations.

Indeed, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who organized the letter, has said that he wants the talks to fail. “The best solution is walk away from the nuclear negotiations now and return to a position of strength,” Cotton said in March 31 statement.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) even encouraged Israel to “go rogue” on Iran, presumably meaning that it should launch a military attack.

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