Hold the Applause: No Iran Deal Yet

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Lausanne April 2. Can we trust Iran not to secretly continue its nuclear weapons program? Ruben Sprich/Reuters

After missing its self-imposed negotiating deadline for the third time, the Obama administration announced Thursday an agreement in principle with an Iranian regime that has no principles, except to expand its power and export its revolution. "I am convinced if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, our world safer," President Obama said from the Rose Garden at the White House.

But attaining an acceptable final deal will be extremely difficult. The thorniest issues remain unresolved, including the timing of sanctions relief and how much research Tehran will be allowed to conduct on uranium enrichment and advanced centrifuges.

Iran's long history of violating its previous nuclear agreements remains the elephant in the room. Obama stressed that the deal includes "unprecedented verification." "If Iran cheats the world will know it," he said. But how long will it take to find out and will the world do anything about it after it has discovered cheating?

Look at Syria, where the Obama administration trumpeted its 2013 agreement to destroy all of the Assad regime's chemical weapons. Yet today, that regime continues to use chlorine gas against its own people, with little fear of the consequences.

The administration has sought to ease anxieties about verifying Iranian compliance by stressing the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was able to block, deflect and stall U.N. inspectors for years after signing a 1991 cease-fire agreement that included robust provisions for inspections.

Another potential problem is that it is not clear that Iran will be required to come clean on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program before a final deal is signed. This is vital, because otherwise the U.S. will not be able to establish a baseline for the Iranian program that could serve as a reliable basis for estimating how long it would take Iran to stage a nuclear breakout—acquire enough weapons-grade fissile material to arm a nuclear weapon.

Moreover, if Iran does not come clean on its past violations of its nuclear commitments, how can it be trusted to comply with any new commitments?

While the administration will spin the agreement as a signal that the Iranians are acting more reasonably, Tehran will see the deal as acceptance in the West of its policies and behavior. There is danger that Iran will be emboldened to escalate its destabilizing behavior in the region, not reduce it. And the more sanctions relief Iran gains, the more cash it will have to finance terrorism and other subversive activities.

No wonder Iranian officials are celebrating the announcement of the deal as a major victory.

James Phillips is the senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. This article first appeared on the Daily Signal.

Hold the Applause: No Iran Deal Yet | Opinion