A preliminary deal designed to halt Iran's nuclear program will take effect next week, the White House said Sunday, but some U.S. lawmakers and analysts have little faith that the Middle Eastern nation will comply.
In exchange for about $7 billion in economic sanctions relief, Iran on Jan. 20 will stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent — a level high enough for energy purposes but not nuclear weapons — and will begin to dilute its existing stockpile of 20 percent uranium. Iran also has pledged not to construct more centrifuges and will submit to rigorous inspection of its facilities, though it does not have to shutter any existing centrifuges.
The U.S. and five international partners agreed to those terms in November when they reached an accord with Iran, the first step in a longer-term process aimed at ensuring Iran never acquires nuclear bombs that could be used to threaten Israel or otherwise destabilize the region.
The Obama administration touted the deal as a key victory that averts potential military action by Israel or others and vindicates the notion that diplomacy, combined with tough economic sanctions, can bring real change inside Iran.
Analysts, however, say key problems with the deal remain. Chief among their concerns is that international inspectors will have access only to Iran's declared facilities.
"In theory, they should be able to monitor the declared facilities, assuming the Iranians don't obfuscate and cheat and play their usual games," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "But there's a still a big blind spot with respect to their covert facilities. They've always had a covert nuclear infrastructure that they've never admitted. We don't know if they exist or where they are. That's a huge concern."
Mr. Dubowitz, however, argues that further sanctions are needed to keep the process moving forward. He points to research showing that Iran's economy has begun to recover as international investors see the nation as a safe place to do business, with the grip of American economic sanctions easing.
"Congress rightly perceives that it is only sanctions pressure that has persuaded Iran to come to the negotiating table and it is only the threat of new sanctions that will persuade Iran to conclude a final deal," he said.