Cautious Optimism Over Iran Nuclear Deal

TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 17: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) gives a speech during a press conference in Tehran, Iran on J
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 17: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) gives a speech during a press conference in Tehran, Iran on January 17, 2016. Yesterday, international sanctions on Iran were lifted within nuclear deal. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Diplomacy entails risks, especially when one side appears to be offering concrete concessions in return for promises from the other. Concern that the U.S. and its allies are doing just that has led Congressional Republicans and presidential hopefuls to oppose the Iran Nuclear deal.

Developments over the past week should, however, encourage skeptics to reconsider their positions. Hardliners who, despite recent progress, still oppose the agreement must offer a constructive alternative other than the ridiculous chant, "bomb, bomb Iran." Like it or not, a country the size of Iran, which is enmeshed in several regional crises, can neither be ignored nor forced into submission without disastrous consequences.

The agreement between the permanent five members of the UN Security Council and the European Union is already producing results. The International Atomic energy verified that Iran has shut down 12,000 centrifuges, exported 98% of its nuclear fuel to Russia, and deactivated a plutonium reactor in return for unfreezing $1 billion in Iranian assets. Independent of the nuclear deal, but clearly related to it, the U.S. and Iran have exchanged prisoners. When two American gunboats strayed into Iranian territorial waters and were temporarily held last week, the two sides resolved the issue expeditiously. While hardly a reason to celebrate an end to decades of hostility, these developments are cause for cautious optimism. Vigilant monitoring will be necessary to insure continued compliance, and, of course, sanctions can be reapplied if necessary.

Critics point out that once it gets what it wants, Tehran will be free to resume its nuclear program. They may be right, but even military experts admit that the agreement will probably delay Iran's nuclear program longer than would airstrikes, which would disrupt but not destroy it and which could harden Iranian resolve to produce a bomb. Neither sanctions nor sabotage, both of which have been employed, have done more than temporarily delay the project. This deal may not be perfect, but it is probably the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. Those opposed to it have yet to come up with an effective, viable alternative.

Like it or not, the West must engage Iran if it wants to stabilize the Middle East. Tehran supports Baghdad and the Assad regime in their struggle with ISIS. It also backs the Houthis in the Yemeni civil war, which many observers consider a proxy struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Washington does not of course like all of these actions by Iran, but it cannot wish them away or counter them with purely military action. The nuclear deal may not lead to resolution of these and other issues dividing the two countries, but without such an agreement no discussion of them will occur at all. The U.S. needs a negotiating partner not an adversary.