Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Iran deal deserves a chance

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Time will tell if the nuclear-restraint agreement with Iran is a historic breakthrough or, as Israel says, a "historic mistake," but for now the accord is a welcome improvement on the status quo.

Iran and its key opponents were on a dangerous collision course, but the risk of war has been temporarily abated by a deal that gives the parties several months to work out a permanent settlement.

Critics such as Israel, Canada and others are justified in their mistrust of the militant Iranian theocracy, but the accord has forced Iran to hit the pause button on its ability to build a nuclear bomb.

It also marks the first time in 34 years that Iranian and American leaders have sat down for talks, which itself was an important milestone after more than three decades of bitter acrimony.

Iran has been seeking nuclear power since the 1970s to meet its anticipated energy requirements, but over the last 10 years it has also turned its attention to enriching uranium to levels that could be weaponized.

Under the weekend agreement reached in Geneva, Iran has agreed to restrict its enrichment process and to neutralize its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium.

International inspectors will have complete access to verify the terms are followed.

Iran was motivated by a desire to lift the punishing sanctions that have crippled its economy, but it received only partial relief pending a more complete agreement. The mullahs are also concerned about Israel's sabre-rattling, which continues today.

The ultimate goal of the peace talks is a plan that would allow Iran to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, while implementing rigorous inspections to ensure the country can never develop nuclear weapons.

If it were that simple, however, a comprehensive agreement might have been reached already.

Iran has wanted to join the nuclear club to enhance its leverage in the region, particularly against its arch-enemy, Israel. It is unlikely to give up its nuclear ambitions without demanding a stiff price.

In addition to eliminating all the sanctions, Iran will probably pursue other agreements on defence and protection from Israel, which is nuclear-armed. It might also seek terms that recognize its regional hegemony, rights for Palestinians and other concessions bundled as security measures.

As talks and negotiations drag on, Iran could achieve a nuclear breakout, setting the stage for a conflict with Israel and the United States.

That's the worst-case scenario, but another nightmare possibility could see Iran grow more powerful if all the sanctions were lifted under western terms.

As a theocratic state that supports terrorist groups, Iran will always be a malignant presence in the Middle East and a real threat to Israel and its neighbours.

A diplomatic strategy that convinces Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, however, is still the right and only course.

The agreement reached in Geneva was only a first step, but the stakes are too high to dismiss it as merely an Iranian deception.

As with all negotiations where trust is an issue, only time will tell if Iran is serious about peace or bent on violence.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2013 A8

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Updated on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 7:53 AM CST: adds image

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