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Crucial compromise on Iran Russia, China show diplomatic maturity by taking view beyond own singular interests

Much-needed international unity on the potential nuclear weapons threat Iran poses surfaced in a six-nation agreement that places the problem before the U.N. Security Council. That body won't take action right away, but the agreement sends a powerful message because it includes Russia and China, nations Tehran counted on to block the West.

Under the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency will report to the Security Council its views of the next steps Iran should take to ensure compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But any Security Council action -- travel restrictions or economic sanctions -- would not be taken until after the IAEA reports to its own board in March.

The compromise also gives diplomacy still more time to work, and there are signs that it might. Iran sought and won information discussions with the Europeans in Brussels recently, a sign that it worries about its global standing despite the posturings of its radical president. And it signaled qualified acceptance of a Russian proposal that would set up an international network of uranium enrichment centers that would let countries like Iran get enriched uranium for power plant development without giving their scientists the skills or facilities to process weapons-grade uranium.

Iran now has time to consider the repercussions of its nuclear program, which it insists is for electricity production, and the rest of the world -- faced with an IAEA report that Iran bought nuclear weapon plans on the black market -- sees as a step toward nuclear weapons. The West, now bolstered by China and Russia, has a chance to make diplomacy -- backed by a strong threat of united action -- work. Those are gains, but the next month will be crucial.

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