In the flush of diplomatic victory, President Obama on Tuesday exulted that an international agreement to restrain Iran's nuclear program "makes our country and the world safer and more secure." But given's Iran past prevarications about its research, Obama must provide skeptics in Congress and elsewhere with detailed assurances that Iran won't be able to receive the benefits of the deal while evading its obligations.
The underlying question is not whether the deal is perfect. Of course it isn't. The question is whether it achieves its intended objective: to prevent the Islamic Republic — for a significant period of time — from developing nuclear weapons, launching a regional arms race and forcing the U.S. to consider yet another military operation in the Middle East. That should dominate what we hope will be a robust and reasoned debate over the wisdom of the agreement.
Our preliminary assessment is that, if its terms are strictly enforced, the deal is likely to put nuclear weapons beyond Iran's reach for a decade or more, a significant achievement and probably the best outcome available. But we await more discussion, evidence and analysis.
The document agreed to by the Islamic Republic and the so-called P5+1 — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — lays out in granular detail exactly what Iran must do, and what it must not do, to be released from economic sanctions. For example, it will have to reduce by two-thirds the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, dispose of 98% of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and alter the core of its nuclear reactor in Arak so that it can't produce weapons-grade plutonium. Iran has agreed to enhanced inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency — although the accord does not guarantee the "any time, anywhere" inspections that some members of Congress have demanded. Instead, it provides for a complex arbitration system to deal with objections by Iran to inspections. That provision requires close scrutiny.
Congress now has 60 days to consider the agreement before deciding whether to vote on a resolution of disapproval that would cancel the president's ability to waive sanctions passed by Congress. The Obama administration needs to provide Congress with credible assurances that Iran won't be able to adopt a policy of "cheat and retreat" even as it benefits economically from the end of sanctions.
Even if Iran complies scrupulously, it will not solve all the issues that have divided the U.S. and Iran for 35 years. It will not make Iran end its support for terrorist groups elsewhere or stop its meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. It's even possible that the lifting of economic sanctions will underwrite further mischief. (So would the eventual end of a United Nations-imposed embargo on shipments of conventional weapons to Iran.)
In the weeks ahead, members of Congress from both parties should put aside their tired talking points and focus honestly on the details of this deal.