WASHINGTON, DC – The United States government’s initial statements on the “first-step agreement on Iran’s nuclear program” have been focused, above all, on the great deal that the US and the West have gotten. Iran has agreed to halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity; neutralize its stockpile of uranium enriched to near 20% purity; stop building its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium; forswear “next generation centrifuges”; shut down its plutonium reactor; and allow extensive new inspections of its nuclear facilities. In return, Iran will get “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief” from international sanctions.
The agreement covers only the next six months, during which both sides will try to reach a final comprehensive agreement. For now, as President Barack Obama put it, the burden remains, from the US point of view, “on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Framing the issue this way reflects the need to sell even a limited, temporary deal to a skeptical US Congress. Israel’s manifest displeasure with the entire negotiating process, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has emphasized to anyone who will listen over the past three months, reverberates loudly among Israel’s many congressional friends.
Indeed, Israel’s stance bolsters the desire of Obama’s Republican opponents to paint him as weak and naïve in negotiating with Iran, a country that still describes the US as “the great Satan.” Both Republicans and Democrats are threatening to pass a new round of tough sanctions against Iran in December. Thus, Obama must focus as much on pushing back against domestic hardliners as on taking a hard line with Iranian negotiators.