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Despite Iran’s compliance with nuclear deal, meticulous vigilance remains a must

So far, so good. If the conduct, as opposed to the static, coming from Iran is as compliant as nuclear inspectors report, then the deal to lift crippling sanctions on this international outlier counts as a global success story, at least preliminarily.

That, of course, is the question. Is Iran truly complying, or is it hiding something that even expert inspectors did not uncover? Its hunger to be a nuclear power is plain, but so is its thirst to escape crippling international sanctions that have hobbled its economy and left its citizens frustrated and angry.

Those competing concerns formed the backdrop to last year’s agreement with Iran to dismantle its nuclear program – which it implausibly insisted was only for peaceful purposes – in exchange for relaxing of the sanctions. It was, and remains, a controversial agreement.

Critics insisted, and not without reason, that as a sponsor of international terrorism, Iran could not be trusted to negotiate in good faith and then to keep its promises. President Obama, though, observed that the United States has a long history of engaging with adversaries and even enemies, including the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and others.

It was important to make the effort, especially given that the alternative would be virtually to guarantee that Iran would, eventually, have nuclear weapons. It appears as though the effort paid off, not only in Iran’s reported adherence to the agreement but in a prisoner swap that freed a Washington Post reporter and other Americans.

Many Republicans, including the presidential candidates, have criticized Obama over the nuclear deal and, now, the prisoner swap. But that demands that they answer, with specificity, what they would have done instead. Another war? Tougher sanctions? Neither would have been supported by America’s international partners in implementing the sanctions.

The bottom line is that to have done nothing about Iran’s nuclear ambitions would have all but ensured that the country would, at some point, have developed a nuclear bomb with which to threaten its region and perhaps the United States.

What would have stopped Iran? Americans wouldn’t tolerate an invasion of Iran, or even the kind of sustained attack that would have done damage but still might not have substantially set back the program. Israel might have been more willing to attack, but the war it would have set off would have been fearsome, and potentially to no advantage.

Of course, because Iran was not found to have cheated thus far doesn’t mean it won’t later. It has been a rogue nation for decades and unworthy of blind trust. That’s why verification of its compliance with the nuclear agreement was important and why it will continue to be important.

Iran recently conducted ballistic missile tests that violated other agreements, demonstrating that it is willing to play games with its diplomacy and potentially with people’s lives.

Still, the facts are that trained inspectors have reported that Iran has kept its part of the agreement on the nuclear deal and that everyone who was supposed to be included in the prisoner swap was ultimately accounted for.

That’s cause for handshakes, and continued vigilance.