Extending the nuclear talks with Iran was a sound step forward

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In Vienna on Friday an agreement was reached between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — plus Germany, and Iran to extend their talks on Iran’s nuclear program and economic sanctions levied against it by another four months, from July 20 to Nov. 24.

It was not an ideal outcome that the two sides had been unable during the five months they had been talking to reach an agreement. On the other hand, throwing in the towel on efforts to reach accord would have been a very bad outcome and extending talks by four months, to seek to mend a rift that has existed for 35 years, was certainly not a bad thing to do. Considering that an American or American-supported Israeli military attack on Iran is still one of the options allegedly out there, extending the talks makes all kinds of sense. Continued punishment of Iran’s civilian population through American and others’ maintenance of economic sanctions without possibility of eventual relief is also certainly not a humane or desirable option.

In any event, for both sides to make it clear to the world and to their own populations that the talks remain worth pursuing, at least for another four months, is a step forward.

On the Iranians’ part, they announced that they had diluted the level of enrichment of all of the 200 kilograms of 20-percent-processed uranium that they held, thus eliminating a stockpile that the United States and the other negotiators on that side of the table considered to be a threat. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in Iran have verified that the Iranians took that action. On the other side, the United States unblocked an additional $2.8 billion in Iranian funds that it had tied up as part of its economic sanctions program.

Barriers still to be surmounted in the four months of negotiations to come include the question of Iran’s enrichment capacity and the fate of a plutonium reactor Iran has in construction at Arak. Other obstacles include domestic opposition to an agreement in Iran from some of the ayatollahs and their allies, and in the United States in the Congress from its ideological ayatollahs, opposed to anything President Barack Obama tries to do, even if it is to the advantage of the United States.

But there is definitely forward progress on this issue.

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