PARIS — The deal reached in Lausanne on Iran's nuclear program is a historic breakthrough. Or at least it will be if it leads to a “final” agreement by the June 30 deadline, which is by no means certain. For the first time in 12 years, when the West's talks with Tehran began, the precise framework of a settlement to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weaponry has been established, setting the stage for a major success in the global battle against nuclear proliferation.
The doubting chorus should try to imagine what would be the alternatives to a deal with Iran. They’re all catastrophic. The regime of ever-harsher sanctions to which the Iranians have been subjected has kept it from pursuing a program that represents a clear violation of its commitments as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The burden of sanctions has without a doubt led Tehran to the table of negotiations, but it never dissuaded it from seeking to increase its uranium enrichment capabilities, the path that leads to the atomic bomb.
In that matter, there can be no status quo. To play the waiting game is to take the risk of the Islamic Republic of Iran growing ever more capable of enriching fissile material for military purposes.
The other option is war, air strikes on Iranian installations, with the risk of retaliation in the Gulf. In other words, the risk of adding more fuel to a region that’s already ablaze. Not to mention that neither war nor the status quo would guarantee that Iran doesn’t eventually acquire the bomb. On the contrary.
President Barack Obama was right to relaunch the negotiations, with the support of the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Britain, Russia — and that of Germany. At the cost of a major concession to Tehran, which will be allowed to enrich uranium domestically but at a low level, they fulfilled their goal to place the Iranian program under such obligations that the international community would have one year to detect whether the deal is being violated, and to react.
The Lausanne deal, which is expected to be finalized in June, will at least be a much-welcome non-proliferation agreement in a Middle East that already counts at least two nuclear powers that haven’t signed up to the NPT, Israel and Pakistan, and certainly doesn’t need another.
Obama is even more ambitious than that. He sees in the deal the beginning of a possible normalization of the U.S.’ relations with Iran, frozen for 35 years, which would lead to Tehran opening itself to the West and therefore becoming more moderate. Such an evolution would be a true stabilizing factor in the region.
We’re not there yet, far from it. A strange coalition, made of Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, Israel and the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress, has taken shape to denounce a deal that they say will reinforce Tehran and make it even more expansionist. They have been “demonizing” Iran, making it the No. 1 strategic threat in the region, well ahead of ISIS jihadists.
Barack Obama will need as much tenacity to reassure them as he showed in seeking the Lausanne agreement. It’s important that he wins the second round of the political and diplomatic fight that has only just begun.