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Editorial: Deal with Iran is a careful first step

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Credit: AP, 2007

The agreement negotiated with Iran to slow its nuclear development in exchange for easing some economic sanctions is not perfect. But it's not bad, either. As a first step toward a permanent deal to stop the country from building a nuclear weapon, it's a step worth taking.

Critics say the Iranians have proved time and again their untrustworthiness when it comes to their nuclear ambitions, and complain that the $7 billion in sanction relief is radioactive robbery. The lack-of-trust argument is valid, but the agreement forged by the United States and its allies is founded on verification, not trust. Inspectors will be in Iran checking its nuclear facilities, sometimes daily.

As for the money, the $7 billion is a fraction of the $100 billion in sanctions now in place. And it's not like the money isn't buying anything. Besides the inspections, Iran has agreed, among other things, to cap its enrichment of uranium at levels well below what's needed for a nuclear weapon, stop producing or modernizing centrifuges, and stop activity at the heavy-water reactor near Arak, which would be able to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Will the Iranians live up the deal? That's hard to say. That's why the most important part of the agreement might be its length. Six months is enough time to monitor Iranian compliance, and quickly resume sanctions if cooperation is lacking.

Critics of the deal are legion. But what was the alternative? The American public has no appetite for getting involved in regime change or military strikes. Unhappy members of Congress -- and there are many in both parties -- are talking about legislation that would impose new and tougher sanctions. They should continue those efforts -- not to implement now, but to signal what might await at the end of the six months if Iran reneges on this agreement or fails to vigorously pursue a permanent deal. The bottom line: The recent change in tone out of Iran indicated a deal was possible. It's time to proceed. Warily.