Skip to main content

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the Iran talks deal at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria Tuesday July 14, 2015. World powers and Iran struck a landmark deal Tuesday to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)Ronald Zak/The Associated Press

A tradeoff, of one kind or another, is the result of a satisfactory negotiation. By that standard, the United States and five other major powers have been quite successful in their long-drawn-out, sometimes agonizing talks with Iran on that country's nuclear ambitions.

The West got much of what it wanted. But so did the Iranian regime. Iran's road to the bomb has been blocked in some areas, and torn up in others. But in return, Iran will get access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen funds, and will be able to revive its economy by exporting oil, which until now has been subject to crippling international sanctions.

Was the trade worth it? As sanctions are gradually lifted, what kind of country will Iran become? The danger is that the Iranian government will be re-energized in the wrong way, to stir up more mischief. It could be in an even better position to support destructive movements such as Hezbollah, which has destabilized Lebanon and fought Israel, or tyrannies such as the Assad regime in Syria.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are already fighting a proxy war in Yemen, and the Iranians might be tempted to engage in more such conflicts. And Iran's power and influence in Iraq could become even greater.

On the other hand, if the P5+1 had simply continued to lay siege to Iran with sanctions, the Iranian theocratic regime would have had little motive to refrain from steadily building itself up into a nuclear-weapons power.

These negotiations were always about forestalling such a result. In that light, the 159-page agreement is a considerable accomplishment. It would have been even better if the International Atomic Energy Agency had been granted the ability to inspect Iranian facilities without notice, but the agreement gives the IAEA "a long-term presence" in the country and a mechanism to "ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns."

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel went to Washington and warned that Iran would keep its "vast nuclear infrastructure" if the deal went ahead. Mr. Netanyahu's objections may have helped stiffen the P5+1's resolve. Two-thirds of Iran's centrifuges are to be removed, and its stockpile of low-enriched uranium is to be reduced by more than 95 per cent.

The agreement doesn't last for ever, but that doesn't mean there's a free-for-all after a decade. Iran is bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The whole cycle could resume. But not for many years.