On July 14th, the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia reached an agreement with Iran to "significantly limit Tehran's nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions." Beyond the mechanics, there are five keys to this agreement.
The first is that most Americans want peace with Iran. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found opinions on the Iran nuclear agreement split along party lines. 50 percent of Democrats supported it, 10 percent were opposed, and 39 percent were unsure. 31 percent of Republicans support the treaty, 30 percent are opposed, and 40 percent are unsure. 33 percent of Independents support the agreement, 21 percent are opposed, and 45 percent are unsure. (Five Thirty Eight observed that opinions about the agreement are closely aligned with opinions of President Obama.)
The Center for American Progress Executive Director Neera Tanden observed:
The agreement between the [United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia] and Iran that constrains Iran's nuclear program is a historic achievement for the United States and its partners. Iran's nuclear program will now fall under unprecedented international scrutiny to ensure that Tehran cannot pursue nuclear weapons. It represents the strongest possible outcome for the United States and its partners, avoiding both the passive appeasement of Iran and the dangers of military action. It is the best way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
The second key is recognition that once the UN Security Council and the government of Iran approve the agreement for all intents and purposes it goes into effect. Theoretically, the other parties should wait 60 days for the U.S. Congress to approve it -- Congress can vote yea or no or do nothing -- but it's hard to imagine China, Russia, and the European Union would wait long to resume full-bore trade with Iran. (Although it's likely the U.S. will approve the agreement; the New York Times opined, "Mr. Obama's chances of ultimately prevailing are considered high. Even if the accord is voted down by one or both houses, he could veto that action, and he is likely to have the votes he would need to prevail in an effort to override the veto.")
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has to verify that Iran has complied with the terms of the agreement, by shrinking its atomic energy program. When this happens, some say by December 15, $100 billion in Iran's frozen assets will be released.
The third key to understanding this agreement is acknowledgement that it brings Iran into the world commercial community. In this sense, the agreement is comparable to the normalization of relations with China: it doesn't mean that all of Iran's problems are fixed -- anymore than all of China's problems are fixed -- but it makes it easier to travel to and from Iran, opens its huge market (Iran has a population of 78 million roughly the size of Turkey and 2.5 times the population of Saudi Arabia), and unites it with the global communications infrastructure.
While Iran remains a theocracy, it's more secular than Saudi Arabia (a staunch U.S. ally) and far less repressive. (While there are Christian churches in Iran, there are none in Saudi Arabia.)
The fourth key is recognition that the agreement changes the balance of power in the Middle East. Since the Shah was deposed in 1979, the U.S. has had almost no diplomatic contact with Iran. This has meant that in dealing with Sunni terrorist groups the U.S. has had to rely upon either Iraqi Sunnis or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with substantial help from the Kurds (a distinct ethnic group who are primarily Sunni Muslims). The recent ISIS uprising has demonstrated that relying solely upon Sunnis is not working and the U.S. has begun (covertly) partnering with Shiite forces funded by Iran. U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear agreement paves the way for the US and Iran to cooperate in military action against ISIS.
The final key to the Iran nuclear agreement is acknowledgment that it further isolates Israel. Israeli leaders denounced the agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it "a historic mistake."
This deal signifies that Israel is further out-of-step with the signatory powers: the United States, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and the European Union. Netanyahu may decry this agreement and blast President Obama for engineering it, but Netanyahu is to blame for Israel's deteriorating relationship with the US. After all, Netanyahu campaigned against Obama in the 2012 presidential election; and, Netanyahu has chosen to align himself with the US Republican Party.
Time will tell whether the nuclear agreement between the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and Iran will have the desired results: elimination of Iran as a nuclear threat; reduction of its sponsorship of terrorist activities; opening Iran to commerce with the west; and guaranteeing Iranians a full range of human rights. But the agreement is an important (long overdue) first step.