Americans have grown accustomed to regarding Iran as an intransigent foe, one that seemed intent on developing nuclear weapons, a quest that infuriated the nearby Israelis and Saudi Arabians and defied Western nations demanding it cease its dangerous ambitions.
Well, late Saturday night the Iranians finally told the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China that it would suspend its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a temporary relaxation of the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.
But this hardly means the Iranians are our friends, and congressional leaders have good cause to be skeptical of the agreement, which by no means eliminates Iran’s ability to become a nuclear power.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, the deal calls for Tehran to limit nuclear efforts in exchange for loosening of Western sanctions worth more than $6 billion to Iran, though many sanctions will remain in place until a broader agreement is reached.
Although Iranian leaders consistently denied they were seeking to develop nuclear weaponry, their agreement Saturday to stop doing so would appear to be a tacit concession that the United States and its allies were right all along.
Two of America’s strongest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, were dismayed by the agreement.
The Saudis even began talking about creating their own nuclear arsenal (presumably with the help of Pakistan).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Saturday’s agreement as “an historic mistake” and said it represented “the Islamic Republic’s biggest diplomatic victory since Khomeini’s revolution.”
Because Israel especially enjoys so much support from both parties on Capitol Hill, President Obama can expect to be sharply criticized for his role in reaching this agreement with Iran.
And there is merit in the criticism because the Geneva settlement doesn’t wipe out the many advances Iran has made to shorten the time it takes to build a nuclear weapon.
The “interim” agreement looks to have gaping holes, allowing Iran to continue low-level uranium enrichment that Israeli authorities believe could be used to mask secret efforts to develop weapons-grade fuel.
The agreement does prevent the development of new centrifuges, but Iran already has more than 18,000 centrifuges, more than enough to produce the enriched uranium necessary for a weapon.
Although Iran’s prime minister, Hassan Rouhani, may be a moderate worthy of America’s trust, in Iran the final authority always rests with the conservative religious leadership, and there’s no guarantee that it will support Rouhani’s initiatives.
And let us not forget that North Korea, which reached a similar deal with the west (and President George W. Bush) five years ago, has since restarted its nuclear reactor.
Americans have no reason to believe Iran, which until recently has demonstrated only contempt for the “Great Satan,” will be more diligent about its promises.