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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) — Critics of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, both in the U.S Congress and the Israeli government, need to answer a question: Is there a better alternative?

Even before we know all the details of the agreement hammered out in Geneva this weekend, there’s reason to worry about an interim accord that eases a few of the painful economic sanctions imposed on Iran in return for Iran’s freezing its drive to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime has been untrustworthy for decades, and the desire for a nuclear bomb is a source of national pride and a security interest.

Yet there is a much different tone since the election of President Hassan Rouhani: The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran has slowed its efforts to convert nuclear power to a bomb. This is progress; it also alters the options, notes Robert Einhorn, a former top State Department policy maker on Iran and nonproliferation.

Einhorn, now at the Brookings Institution, laid this out in a speech to an Israeli research organization last month. A perfect deal, as desired by the Israelis, isn’t attainable, Einhorn said, in evaluating any interim pact; “the better test is how it compares to alternative means.”

There are three: Retain or toughen sanctions; actively work to change the regime, or use military force, war. The economic sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table. Its oil revenue over the next six months will be $25 billion less than three years earlier, and trade and financial transactions have been curtailed.

Congressional Action

There is considerable support in Congress for toughening the sanctions, pressuring Iran for more concessions, but there is little support elsewhere, Einhorn said. If Congress acted unilaterally, the result could be an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program and more power for the hardliners, he added.

“Don’t think for a moment that toughening the sanctions would cause the collapse of the ayatollahs’ regime,” said Les Gelb, a former U.S. diplomat and prolific writer about foreign policy.

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