A rushed, bad deal is more dangerous than no deal at all. So negotiators are right to extend the deadline to reach agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.
The key date is now July 7, two days before the real deadline in the eyes of the Obama administration. If a final agreement between Iran, the United States and five other world powers is reached by July 9, Congress gets only 30 days to review it. If not, Congress would have 60 days, more time for critics to pick it apart and marshal opposition.
While it is the third missed deadline in the last year, deadlines don’t matter as much as the details of a comprehensive pact to stop any ambitions Iran has for nuclear weapons. One crucial provision is whether Iran will allow full international inspections, including of military sites, to guarantee its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
President Barack Obama was right to say Tuesday that he is prepared to walk away from a deal without a “serious, rigorous verification mechanism.”
Without strict inspections, it would be asking a lot for Iran’s neighbors – Israel in particular – to trust that a deal is in their best interests. Some experts say that a strong inspection system can be devised only if Iran’s leaders come clean about a suspected weapons program before 2003 – something they have refused to do so far.
The State Department said that with the extension, the U.S. and Iran would continue measures that include some relief from economic sanctions for Iran and a commitment by its government to freeze some nuclear activities.
Without a final deal, Iran could stockpile enough enriched uranium to build a bomb. As we said when Obama announced the framework of the deal on April 2, negotiation is far preferable than the alternatives, which include launching a military strike. An attack might not be fully effective because many facilities are deep underground, and it could spark a wider war in the Middle East.
It’s true that Iran already is fomenting conflict in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and across the region. Iran, however, would be even more of a regional menace – and a global threat – if it were armed with nuclear weapons.
Done right, a negotiated deal can stop that from happening for years to come.