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Agreement should be given a chance to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons

Here is the fundamental question regarding the nuclear deal struck this week with Iran: Are the United States, Israel and the rest of the civilized world better off with it or without it? Upon reflection the answer seems clear: The deal provides some hope of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear nation that could threaten the Middle East and, with that, the world.

It is not in any way guaranteed to do that and no one should expect that it will without rigorous enforcement of all its moving parts. To paraphrase one of Ronald Reagan’s most famous aphorisms: Don’t trust; verify.

An agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capability offers the only path – short of military action – to what all say they want, which is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of a government that has repeatedly shown itself to be erratic and untrustworthy.

First of all, sanctions don’t last forever, especially international sanctions imposed by countries with different interests and different levels of commitment. There is no reason to believe that the current sanctions against Iran would have lasted much longer if no agreement were in the offing or if the resulting one fails. One way or another, these sanctions carry an expiration date.

Secondly, without a deal in place, Iran has no impetus whatsoever to refrain from developing nuclear weapons. Indeed, given what that country must have learned from the U.S. invasion of Iraq, seeking nuclear arms is, from its perspective, a sensible choice.

Yet, given Iran’s international support of terrorism and lethal hostility to Israel, allowing that to happen could be disastrous.

Thus the conundrum: Failure to craft an agreement all but guarantees that Iran will continue to seek nuclear weapons, perhaps igniting a war as the United States and Israel make good on pledges to prevent that nation from achieving nuclear capability. Only two paths are available, neither of them guaranteed to work: military or diplomatic.

The Obama administration and other countries involved in the negotiations have chosen diplomacy. It was the right decision – really, the only decision – even given Iran’s behavior.

No one should expect Iran not to try cheating. It’s why inspections and muscular enforcement of the agreement will be essential and, to that end, the agreement includes the most intrusive international monitoring system ever devised by the U.N. nuclear agency whose task is to detect cheating. That’s encouraging.

To be sure, the agreement is not perfect, and critics have pointed out weaknesses. But that is the nature of negotiations. No good deal among adversaries ever gives all parties everything they want. The question is about balance and the likelihood of achieving critical aims.

No doubt, some of the agreement’s critics sincerely believe it is a mistake. But some don’t believe any deal is worth pursuing – just as they didn’t believe it when Richard Nixon negotiated with China or Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union.

Other reactions, from the left and the right, are bound up in presidential politics. Indeed, it’s hard to credit any of the instant analysis that flatly declared the agreement either to be the moral equivalent of treason or a thing of surpassing beauty.

All we can know for now is that an enforceable deal that disincentivizes Iran from seeking nuclear weapons offers a better way to achieve that goal than any other. An interconnected world is safer than an isolated one. That’s the goal of this deal. Congress should approve it and then watch like a hawk to ward off violations.

If Iran breaks its word, the United States, Israel and all other nations retain their rights to respond, as appropriate.