UPDATE on 11/23. I originally posted this item two weeks ago when it looked all but certain that an Iran deal was in the works. That got scuttled at the last minute, but now has been revived. 

If news reports are accurate, negotiators in Geneva are poised to announce a deal that would trade a six month suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment for the limited easing of sanctions.

This a hugely significant breakthrough. Here are three reasons why:

1) It shows that diplomacy works. The arrangement agreed to in Geneva today is not a comprehensive agreement. We are still a long ways away from an agreement that exchanges the end of sanctions for the suspension of uranium enrichment and rigorous international inspections.  But today’s deal is a powerful demonstration that this is a fundamentally achievable goal. Iran is willing to suspend enrichment. And the international community is willing to ease sanctions. This sends the important message to hardliners that tough talk, bluster and pugnaciousness are ineffective strategies for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. On the other hand, the combination of tough multi-lateral sanctions passed by the United Nations, plus a sincere willingness by the USA and Iran to engage in direct negotiations are yielding tangible results.

2) It can remake regional politics.  The fear has always been that Iran’s breakout could inspire a nuclear arms race in the world’s most unstable region. If Iran goes nuclear, than so might Saudi Arabia. And then there is Israel. On the other hand, a comprehensive nuclear deal would be a big step toward rapprochement between the USA and Iran. Of course there are other issues like Iran’s support for groups the USA deems terrorist. But the entire posture of America’s security arrangements in the region — namely its alliance with Saudi Arabia —  would be fundamentally altered if Iran was no longer considered the single greatest threat to regional peace and stability. The consequences (and fallout) of that shift would be one of the driving forces shaping regional politics for years to come.

3) Nuclear weapons are evil. Nuclear weapons are uniquely horrible and a scourge on humanity. They are indiscriminate, destructive to the planet, contain the potential to end the world as we know it. There is a reason they call it a Doomsday Clock. We still don’t know if our species is going to make it through the nuclear age. But to the extent that this deal prevents the breakout of another nuclear weapons country, and gets us closer to zero, it is making the world a better place. 

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