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Other Opinion: What U.S. didn’t say about Iran deal

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The following editorial appeared in Friday’s Washington Post:

The fact sheet distributed by the Obama administration about the nuclear agreement with Iran is notable for its omissions. The 2,000-word document, like President Obama’s televised statement Saturday night about the deal, stresses Iran’s pledge to cap its enrichment of uranium, delay the completion of a plutonium-producing reactor and accept additional inspections — measures that will guard against an attempt to produce a bomb while negotiations continue.

What the White House didn’t report is that the text of the accord makes several major concessions to Tehran on the terms of a planned second-stage agreement. Though White House officials and Secretary of State John F. Kerry repeatedly said that Iran’s assertion of a "right to enrich" uranium would not be recognized in an interim deal, the text says the "comprehensive solution" will "involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters." In other words, the United States and its partners have already agreed that Iranian enrichment activity will continue indefinitely. In contrast, a long-standing U.S. demand that an underground enrichment facility be closed is not mentioned.

Mr. Obama and other U.S. officials have spoken about a six-month time frame for completing negotiations, but the agreement says the six-month arrangement can be renewed "by mutual consent" and that "the parties aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing [in] no more than one year." It also states that "there would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step," including "addressing the U.N. Security Council resolutions." Those resolutions order Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but the agreement does not say whether those demands will be enforced.

The most troubling part of the document provides for what amounts to a sunset clause in the comprehensive agreement. It says the final deal will "have a specified long-term duration to be agreed upon," and that once that time period is complete, "the Iranian nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party" to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran thus could look forward to a time when there would be no sanctions and no special restrictions on its nuclear capacity; it could install an unlimited number of centrifuges and produce plutonium without violating any international accord.

Administration officials say they regard Iran’s agreement to the words "long-term" in the sunset clause as a significant concession. In theory, this might mean 15 to 20 years. Iran, however, has proposed a far shorter period; we are told it was three to five years. Whatever the final compromise, it would be dangerous to allow this Iranian regime to have an unrestricted nuclear program at any time — and it surely would be unacceptable to Israel and Iran’s Arab neighbors. The United States should retain the ability to block the expiration of controls with its veto in the U.N. Security Council.

The interim arrangement, as we have said, is worthy because it checks Iran’s progress toward a bomb and is far preferable to the military action that otherwise might have been necessary. But the agreement leaves the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement. The concessions made to Iran will have to be balanced by a major rollback of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure — with no automatic expiration date.

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