Meeting Iran halfway

New agreement is a significant step toward stabilizing the Middle East

As President Obama has said, the interim agreement signed by Iran and the major powers Sunday is a significant step forward, one that has the potential to reshape the Middle East by removing Iran as a potential nuclear threat. It’s worth noting that this is the second time in recent weeks when negotiations have had profound results, the first having led to the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons. Obama’s preference for diplomacy over violence appears to be working.

The agreement—the product of the first direct contact between the United States and Iran in 34 years—gives those who seek to keep Iran from creating a nuclear bomb all the resources they could reasonably want, including strict limits on uranium enrichment and the number of centrifuges, the institution of rigorous monitoring, the neutralization of Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium, and more. The Iranians will be unable to move their nuclear program forward in any way for at least the next six months—and forever if the parties come to a permanent agreement.

In return, the Western signatories agreed only to release some $6 billion of Iran’s long-frozen foreign assets, a small percentage of the funds.

This has the potential to be a great deal, a historic deal, if all goes well. That will depend on the Iranians following through, of course, as well as on all parties’ ability to forge a mutually acceptable permanent agreement. It won’t be easy, and a number of influential players, including the Israeli government and certain members of Congress, oppose any lifting of sanctions until Iran abandons its nuclear-power program entirely.

But that’s the path to war. Israel already has threatened unilateral action against Iran, and as Israel goes, so goes the United States. This agreement makes that scenario much more unlikely, and for that we can all give thanks.