By Laicie Heeley, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Laicie Heeley is the director of Middle East and defense policy at The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Two weeks after the P5+1 powers reached a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for some sanctions relief, the American public is still trying to make sense of the deal.
Multiple polls, including from Washington Post/ABC and Reuters/Ipsos indicate strong American support for the deal with Iran. Yet a new Pew Research poll suggests many Americans are skeptical about Iran’s intentions, with a plurality disapproving of the agreement. Given that the agreement is so complex, it’s understandable that the U.S. public is making up its mind about the deal. But the reality is that after decades of disappointment, the United States is finally approaching a win with Iran. This is a good deal for the United States and its allies.
The details of the accord, reached in Geneva by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, square firmly within America’s national security and non-proliferation interests by freezing the progress of Iran’s nuclear program before it reaches critical weapons capacity, while also initiating a rollback of the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s a boost for both U.S. and international security. Leading national security experts from across the ideological spectrum agree, including former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who have found common cause in championing the possibilities an accord presents.
The deal will halt enrichment of uranium at 20 percent levels and requires the existing stock of 20 percent material be converted to an oxide form – a process that effectively eliminates the threat of that uranium being further spun into weapons-grade material. Under the agreement, Iran also will suspend the operation of additional centrifuges and permit the most expansive transparency measures in International Atomic Energy Agency history.
In return, this agreement presents no risk to the United States. For suspending those activities for 6 months as part of the first phase of a two-part deal, Iran will receive $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief. However, the main structure of the sanctions regime remains intact and will continue to cause damage to the Iranian economy as those sanctions that have really hurt – the oil, banking, and financial services sanctions – will stay in place.
And, if the Iranians cheat, the United States will have delayed Iran’s progress by six months while coming away with more information about its program. In addition, the sanctions pressure will only be lifted under a final deal in which Iran rolls back its program. This deal puts America in the driver’s seat to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran
Is this a perfect deal? No, it’s not ideal for either side. The U.S. chose not to fight for a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, and the sanctions relief Iran chose to accept is relatively minor. But, it is a good first step, and it is important to recognize that this agreement has the support of the international community. A deal that expected capitulation on every point would be as unreasonable and unrealistic. And nor should the United States have attempted to extract concessions that would only build into resentment that encouraged later cheating. Any deal that undercut Iran’s sense of pride would have simply empowered hardliners at the expense of pragmatic leaders inside the Islamic Republic.
America’s best diplomats, along with the help of the international community, have worked for years to establish the incentives to achieve this good deal. They deserve our thanks. Now the United States and our allies are freezing the most proliferation-sensitive aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, beginning a modest rollback of its capability, and establishing the outlines of a long-term deal that will permanently eliminate the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
That’s a big step forward and one that all Americans should support.