Six Western countries and Iran on Nov. 23 struck an interim agreement in Geneva that will restrict Iran’s uranium enrichment and partially lift some of the Western economic sanctions against Iran.
This represents the first concrete result of seven years of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program between Iran and the “P5-plus-1,” which comprise the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China — plus Germany. But it is only a six-month interim deal that will only temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear development program.
Iran should make sincere efforts to dispel international concerns over its nuclear program by fulfilling the terms of the accord, including acceptance of the daily monitoring of uranium enrichment facilities at Fordow and Natanz by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. U.S. President Barack Obama, for his part, should persuade those opposing the deal, including Israel and members of the U.S. Congress, to support it.
Although the deal has not touched on such important issues as the final status of the heavy-water reactor at Arak, which could produce plutonium, a key ingredient of a type of nuclear bomb, and that of underground enrichment facilities at Fordow and Natanz, it is a first step toward a comprehensive treaty to be negotiated in the next six months that could eventually settle the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The P5-plus-1 countries should emphasize this point to any parties that are skeptical about the deal.
Under the agreement, Iran will stop enrichment of uranium beyond 5 percent. As for the uranium Iran has enriched to 20 percent, which can be used in nuclear weapons, Iran will dilute it or convert it into oxide to prevent bomb production. The P5-plus-1 countries will permit the remittance of $4.2 billion, part of Iran’s oil revenue frozen in foreign banks, to Iran and partially lift the embargo on precious metals and petroleum products.
Iran would be wise to use this money to improve the lives of its citizens, who have suffered under the sanctions.
The deal does not mention Iran’s right to enrich uranium, which Iran sought. Nor does it include any phrase that bans Iran’s continuation of uranium enrichment.
Iran will halt construction of the Arak reactor for six months and facilitate access to the Fordow and Natanz facilities by inspectors from the international nuclear watchdog, including surprise inspections. Iran will be allowed to keep existing enrichment centrifuges, but it cannot install new ones.
Thus it is all the more important that the future treaty include a clear mechanism that will limit Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes and rule out any possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would greatly destabilize the security situation in the Middle East.
Apparently behind Iran’s acceptance of the interim accord is its economic plight caused by the sanctions. Oil exports sharply decreased and its economy dwindled 5.4 percent in the fiscal year ending in March. It is suffering from 40 percent inflation annually, and 26 percent of its youths are jobless. Iranian citizens are hit by high prices in such items as wheat and gasoline.
If Iran succeeds in dispelling international suspicions about its nuclear program by ceasing all actions that could lead to the development of a nuclear weapon, its reputation as a regional power will be greatly enhanced.