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Striking a Nuclear Deal with Iran Is Only the Beginning

Author: Ray Takeyh, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
November 25, 2013
Washington Post


The accord on Iran's nuclear program provides some indisputable advantages for the West, such as imposing a measure of restraint on Iran's nuclear trajectory and impeding its uranium enrichment to 20 percent. Still, the agreement acknowledges a set of principles that could condition a final agreement to Iran's advantage. Going forward, the challenge of diplomacy will be to alter that calculus.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, bring a unique perspective to diplomacy. A seasoned team much experienced with Iran's nuclear program, they believe that the most important thing about the initial round of diplomacy is not the capabilities that are conceded in the short term but the principles that are laid down. The plan of action signed this weekend in Geneva covers not just various confidence-building measures but also principles that will define the final agreement. While debate rages about how many centrifuges are being traded for how much sanctions relief, Zarif has returned home with the international community's acceptance that Iran may one day have an industrial-size nuclear infrastructure.

Much has been made of Iran's right to enrich. It is impossible to read the agreement without appreciating that the pathways of diplomacy are leading to legitimization of Iran's enrichment capability. The accord acknowledges that a "comprehensive solution would involve a mutual defined enrichment program." As a matter of long-standing policy, the United States does not interpret the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as giving anyone the right to enrich. In practice, however, Washington is respecting the reality of enrichment on Iranian soil. After years of wrangling, the great powers have subtly conceded to Iran's contention that it has a right to indigenously enrich uranium under conditions to be negotiated.

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