The best chance to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful is imperiled because of mistaken notions about what real alternatives the West has.
There certainly is an agreement to be had that is consistent with the preliminary accord, known as the Joint Plan of Action, reached more than a year ago. This plan placed major restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and subjected it to an unprecedented degree of monitoring. But the whole negotiating edifice would crash if the U.S. Congress either rejects a final agreement, with a resolution of disapproval, or decides to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would violate, and thus kill, the preliminary accords.
If this happens, Iran’s nuclear program would be unrestricted and unmonitored – apart from what applies to any state that is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to standard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Indefinitely extending the preliminary accord could serve nonproliferation objectives. But this is not politically feasible in either Tehran or Washington.
The Iranians could not be expected, for example, to prolong endlessly an arrangement that offers only minimal sanctions relief. Congressional hawks, meanwhile, have made it clear they would impose additional sanctions if a final agreement is not reached by early summer.
Members of Congress who seem primed to oppose whatever agreement emerges from the negotiations usually base their opposition on the idea that rejecting the agreement would clear the way for a “better deal.” That belief is a fantasy.