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A 'good enough' agreement

In unusually blunt terms, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that the only alternative to a negotiated agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program is war. That argument didn't go down well with the Republican lawmakers, who made it clear they aren't buying it. Their opposition might be understandable if they had a better strategy for restraining Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But the fact is, they don't. Instead, what they're offering is political theater leading up to next year's elections that, if it succeeded in scuttling the accord, would actually make the Middle East a much more dangerous place and weaken U.S. influence around the world.

Mr. Kerry appeared on Capitol Hill as part of the Obama administration's opening push to win support for the agreement worked out in Vienna earlier this month. The terms of that deal require Iran to dramatically cut back the scope and scale of its suspect nuclear program in exchange for a gradual lifting of international economic sanctions. The administration insists the deal would block all of Iran's potential pathways to building a bomb for at least the next 10 to 15 years, and possibly longer.

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It's not a perfect deal — no such agreement ever is, and its success will depend on specifics of implementation that are presently unknowable. But Mr. Kerry argued it good enough to give the U.S. ample warning of Iranian cheating and that given Iran's own internal political dynamics it is probably the best deal we could expect. Moreover, the consequences of Congress rejecting the agreement would be far worse. Not only would it lead to the collapse of the international economic sanctions that forced Tehran to the bargaining table, it would also accelerate Iran's drive to build a bomb.

The same world powers — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — that worked with the U.S. to negotiate the accord are already lining up to do business with Tehran after the UN Security Council voted last week to lift international sanctions as soon as Iran complies with the terms of the agreement. Does anyone believe they will forego the billions of dollars in contracts they could secure simply because lawmakers in the U.S. decide to back out of the deal?

If Congress repudiated the accord, Mr. Kerry said, it would in effect give "a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment, proceed full speed ahead with a heavy water reactor, install new and more efficient centrifuges, and do it all without the unprecedented inspection and transparency measure that we have secured." That's not even to mention the billions of dollars in frozen oil assets in foreign banks that would flow into Iranian accounts once sanctions from our international negotiating partners were lifted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, around the time Mr. Kerry spoke, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was telling his own domestic critics roughly the same thing, warning that rejecting a deal with the U.S. would lead to an economic "Stone Age" in Iran. Mr. Rouhani also reminded the country's hard-liners that the sanctions regime had brought Iran's economy to the verge of collapse and that he won election partly on a promise to have them lifted.

Republican lawmakers who oppose the Iran nuclear deal mirror the complaints of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who regards any agreement that allows Iran to maintain a nuclear infrastructure as an existential threat to his country. Yet former Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkas, who has advised several Israeli presidents, told The Sun editorial board Friday that Israel doesn't stand to benefit if Congress rejects the deal. On the contrary, that would only would result in leaving America's staunchest Middle Eastern ally more isolated while allowing Iran to continue to race for a bomb. Moreover, Mr. Pinkas suggested, after the U.N. Security Council action this week the Iran nuclear deal is already a fait accompli for all practical purposes, no matter what Congress does.

The GOP lawmakers who control both houses of Congress surely resent that, and it appears likely they will pass a no-confidence resolution rejecting the agreement. But it's less likely they could muster the two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto. That puts them in a position to spend the next month or so sniping at the administration's handling of the negotiations and Monday-morning quarterbacking the result — all without having to take any responsibility for coming up with an alternative. They could even vote to reject the accord knowing that the president's veto will save them — and the country —from the consequences of their irresponsible action.

That's why we'll be seeing lots of high political drama in the coming weeks, but precious little of the statesmanship Americans once expected from their elected leaders.

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