The agreement between the P5+1 and Iran to extend the period of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program is good news for those who support a peaceful resolution to the dispute. While it would have been remarkable if such a complex issue had been resolved in only six months, with a continued freeze on the development of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief, negotiators on both sides will now have the breathing room to hammer out the technical details necessary for a final deal.
As has been the case for the six months following last November’s historic agreement in Geneva, the extension guarantees that Iranians do not progress on their nuclear program. As part of the interim deal, Iran eliminated all of its 20 percent enriched uranium, allowed for intrusive inspections to determine that no nuclear material is being diverted for non-peaceful purposes, and halted construction on new nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, the limited sanctions relief given to Iran has strengthened the hand of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who has so far been able to maintain the Supreme Leader’s essential support for the talks.
Despite these positive developments, some in Congress are calling for an increase in pressure on Iran and are seeking to box in the American negotiating team through legislation that would dictate the terms of a final deal. Both actions would weaken our president and undermine U.S. credibility as an effective global leader. Passing new sanctions regulations — a clear violation of the Geneva agreement — would prompt Iran to back out of the talks and make the U.S. out to be the irresponsible actor. Ultimately, this would lessen our allies’ willingness to cooperate with us on Iran.
An end to the talks would also be devastating to the moderate Rouhani government, which may represent our last hope at resolving the nuclear crisis peacefully. Rouhani and other Iranian moderates have gone out on a limb in arguing that negotiating with the West — especially the U.S. — is in Iran’s interest. If talks break down and sanctions increase, hardliners in Tehran will find a receptive audience when arguing that negotiations only make Iran vulnerable and that confrontation is the only answer.
For those in Washington intent on undermining the talks, it is important to note that failure to arrive at a negotiated settlement will most likely lead to a military confrontation. The status quo prior to the talks — with Iran increasingly squeezed economically — will be unsustainable. Instead, U.S.-Iran tensions will spiral out of control, with Washington eventually succumbing to pressure to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. This, in turn, would only convince the Iranians to move their program underground and speed toward a bomb.
This is why a vast majority of Americans, including 62 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats, favor a deal with Iran. After thousands of needless American deaths in Iraq, trillions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, the American people will not take kindly to leaders sleepwalking into another war.
To be clear, no truly sustainable deal will be considered perfect by either side. This is because a successful settlement is one in which neither side has pressured the other into accepting humiliating demands. And make no mistake: no amount of pressure will convince Iran to give up enriched uranium on its soil. Any successful deal will have to provide the Iranians with a way to save face but still allow intrusive inspections — the only way to ensure that Iran does not move toward a bomb.
As the Middle East fractures with Sunni extremists now controlling territory in Syria and Iraq, clear-eyed U.S. leadership is essential. Rather than interfering, Congress should support the Obama administration in its pursuit of a historic deal that will help stabilize the region and secure the interests of the American people.
Ali G. Scotten is the founder of Scotten Consulting, a company specializing in geopolitical and sociocultural analysis of the Middle East.