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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna on Tuesday.U.S. State Department/Reuters

The 11th hour doesn't have to be the last hour; in fact, it often shouldn't be. The negotiations on Iran's nuclear program between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany (P5+1), and Iran itself, didn't wrap up on the scheduled deadline, Tuesday. That's good. They should take as long as it takes to get it right.

Last week, a group of 18 Americans experts, several of whom have advised Barack Obama on this issue, published an open letter saying that some of the essential elements of an agreement have not been pinned down. These people are by no means naysayers who find fault with almost anything that Mr. Obama does.

The U.S. President has done more than any of his predecessors to make the sanctions effective – and widely effective. He is not an appeaser of Iran, any more than he is a secret Muslim jihadi. But he should not stumble now, in haste.

Above all, the International Atomic Energy Agency – not an espionage agency for the U.S., or for the P5+1 as a whole – has to be able to check on what the Iranians are up to after an agreement is reached. The IAEA needs "timely and effective access" to anywhere that the Iranians might be violating the agreement. So far, that has not been nailed down.

That includes enabling the IAEA to investigate any former and current evidence of "nuclear weaponization" programs. Iran has already gone far enough with nuclear material to make itself a "nuclear threshold state." It must go no farther along that road.

The group of 18 are also right to say that the sanctions should not be lifted until the Iranian government has actually complied with the essential elements of the agreement.

Iran will have parliamentary elections next February. If there is not yet an agreement by then, the pressure of the electorate on the various religious and political factions in Iran could be beneficial.

Most Iranians want to be able to benefit from their country's oil-export revenues and, more broadly, to deal freely with the rest of the world. That's why no one needs to act as if grasping for straws. If Iran has to wait some months longer for the lifting of the sanctions, so be it.