An international agreement designed to throw a roadblock in front of Iran's nuclear weapons program seems to offer plenty for the mullahs and little in the way of security for the rest of the world.
In the face of stifling economic sanctions, Iran's theocratic leaders agreed to negotiate with representatives of the United Nations' permanent Security Council members — the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom — plus Germany. The result was a deal that:
• Rolls back the most weapons-ready of Iran's nuclear programs;
• Freezes much of Iran's nuclear activities;
• Allows for daily United Nations inspections at the country's most sensitive nuclear sites;
• Gives Iran access to $4.2 billion in frozen overseas assets — to be released as the country meets provisions in the accord — and lifts other economic sanctions.
Iran's nuclear weapons program slows to a crawl for the time being, but timelessness is the issue here. The deal is a temporary one, put in place for six months while a more permanent accord is sought. In other words, Iran bought itself some time while climbing out from under the stiffest economic sanctions, a fact that points out the shortcomings of the deal.
As Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post wrote: "If at this point of maximum economic pressure we can't get Iran to accept a final deal that shuts down its nuclear program, how in God's name do we expect to get such a deal when we have radically reduced that pressure?"
Good question. Although, as the past several millennia have taught us, events in the Middle East are highly unpredictable.
Without a doubt, work must continue toward scuttling Iran's nuclear program, considering the nation's unwillingness to be a conscientious member of the international community. In 2000, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a "cancerous tumor" that should be removed from the region. In 2005, then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be "wiped off the map." And last year, Khamenei called Israel a "cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world" and said that its existence is responsible for many problems facing the Muslim world. Working to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons isn't about catering to longtime U.S. ally Israel; it's about the presence of threats that could turn into a horrifying reality.
While the latest agreement is a step forward for the international community, it remains to be seen whether it is worth the paper it's written on. In 2003 and 2004, Iran agreed to nuclear accords, but quickly backed out of the deals when it grew to dislike them. That demonstrates the difficulty of implementing such a plan, and it demonstrates the long odds that are in play this time around.
Meanwhile, as talks continue, the basic framework for Iran's nuclear program remains in place. The key component to the accord is one that prevents Iran from enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, but experts say that it is more difficult to get to the 5 percent level than it is to get from there to 90 percent.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and representatives of the other nations involved in the negotiations are to be credited for engaging Iran and for seeking to halt the nation's nuclear weapons program. But much diplomatic work remains to be done. An agreement has been reached, but it's far from a solution.