A military strike against Iran might someday be necessary to halt that country’s development of a nuclear arsenal. First the United States and its allies must exhaust every reasonable, peaceful option, beginning with an agreement that would severely restrict the Iranian government’s ability to process weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
The proposed agreement, now under review by Congress, was forged during 20 months of talks involving the United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China. The terms include lifting international economic sanctions imposed against Iran over the past decade because of its nuclear program.
In return, the deal, which the International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor, calls for the elimination of almost all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium and a ban on further enrichment as well as nuclear weapons research. Other key components include a sharp reduction in the number of centrifuges used for enrichment and redesign of a reactor that could produce bomb-grade plutonium. America and its partners would lift sanctions in stages as compliance is verified.
Among the most notable expressions of support for the accord is a recent letter from 29 U.S. nuclear scientists, including Richard L. Garwin, a physicist who helped design the first hydrogen bomb. The scientists characterized the agreement as “stringent” and “innovative.”
Likewise, three dozen retired generals and admirals have issued a letter supporting the deal. They call it “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the deal. With a few exceptions, the debate is largely shaping up along party lines. Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas have said they’ll vote against the deal. Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts has expressed skepticism the accord holds Iran accountable. On Thursday, Missouri’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill ended weeks of studying the deal and said she had concluded that the world would be better off with it than without it.
Both sides have engaged in counterproductive hyperbole. President Barack Obama unwisely said Republicans skeptics “have a lot in common” with Iranian hard-liners. Rhetoric from the GOP has been little better, with Blunt contending the agreement “confirms that the president was desperate to get a deal with Iran at any price.”
Few Americans, including the president, need a reminder that the Iranian government isn’t trustworthy. It’s a brutal regime engaged in the oppression of its citizens and the sponsorship of international terrorism. On those points, there’s no dispute. There’s no appetite for a deal “at any price” on anyone’s part.
Negotiating a reasonable deal with unreasonable people means making concessions that not everyone likes, as well as forgoing demands — such as a permanent restrictions on nuclear activity — most everyone would love to see.
There is enough substance in the deal to give hope that it will, as the 29 nuclear scientists contend, “advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and … serve as a guidepost for future nonproliferation agreements.”
And if Iran’s leaders renege on their commitment, the deal — as the scientists also note — provides “strong, internationally supported justification for intervention.” Even the unreasonable in Tehran must have an inkling of what that means.