Obama’s gift to Trump: A lasting deal on Iran’s nuclear program

The airwaves and above-the-fold newspaper real estate are understandably focused on the Donald Trump Jr. emails.

But Friday also marks two years since the conclusion of one of the most successful deals in modern diplomacy — the negotiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. And this anniversary serves as a reminder of what the United States can achieve through diplomacy and engagement, when the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and the secretary of energy work together with civil and foreign service officers who are on the front lines of diplomacy around the world.

I was at the State Department when the negotiations began and at the White House when the deal finally passed, and for the months following the negotiation, Washington was focused on a largely partisan battle over the final details of the deal. Still, there was skepticism from members of both parties about whether Iran would hold up their end of the bargain. And a bitter battle was waged by high-powered lobbying groups trying to kill the deal with additional sanctions. It had several near-death experiences.

But a lot has happened in the last two years that make Americans and our allies and partners safer. Iran has rendered its heavy water reactor inert, drastically reduced its number of centrifuges, and permitted IAEA inspectors to carry out rigorous and intrusive inspections. The international community has increased visibility in order to monitor whether or not Iran is continuing to operate a peaceful program.

And the benefits are not just to the safety of citizens here. This has given other Middle Eastern countries the space to pull back from the precipice of a nuclear arms race, shored up existing non-proliferation regimes such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and eliminated an existential threat to the United States, Israel, other regional allies and partners, and the global order upon which we all depend. It is working.

No one is saying the Iran deal is perfect. Diplomatic negotiations rarely end with a feeling of perfection on either end. Diplomacy includes making concessions that move all sides toward our ultimate goal; in the case of the Iran deal we clearly would have preferred to get additional concessions from the Iranians about ballistic missile development and other activities, but in order to keep our coalition together we had to be focused and deliberate.

And it paid off. The deal is actively improving the international security situation, because Iran is complying with the agreement. The Trump administration is now expected to certify that Iran is complying to the deal.

Our international negotiating partners have indicated that they are committed to seeing this through and standing by the deal. Yet it is easy to envision the Iran deal going the way of the Paris Agreement or the years of work on Cuba. Except with more immediate and severe costs.

As we face an aggressive nuclear weapons state in North Korea today, we know exactly what the consequences are when diplomatic efforts fade away. No administration should invite this most serious threat to Americans and our allies and partners. Vigorous support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA (the Iran Nuclear Deal’s official name) is the best way to fend off nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Politics should not be a driver of decisions on this issue, or on our foreign policy. The JCPOA provides a feasible path forward, for the Trump team, on one of the trickiest international challenges we face.

On this second anniversary of the deal, let us look ahead to where it can take us. In addition to the tangible, quantifiable advances in global secrity made possible by the deal — the reductions in centrifuges, the limits on the amount of highly enriched uranium permitted to be held in Iran, and the intense inspections regime, for example — the Iran deal provides opportunities. In particular, opportunities for US leadership in the world as we try to battle terrorism and seek a path forward for Syria without the potential threat of Iran pursuing nuclear weapons or the ensuing arms race in the Middle East. This is an area in which leaders from both parties have said they want to continue to lead the world. Remaining committed to the Iran deal is how we do that.

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