Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal are calling it "a victory for diplomacy." That very much remains to be seen; certainly it is a premature judgment. The same is true of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dark prophecy that the deal is "a historic mistake."
The real significance is that the deal was done at all, thanks to the relentless diplomacy of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his ability to keep our fractious allies in this endeavor — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — on the same page.
Of modestly less importance is that the U.S. and Iran talked substantively for the first time in decades, thanks in part to the departure of its bellicose former president, Mohammed Ahmadinejad, and his replacement by Hassan Rouhani, who claims he wants to end Iran's pariah status.
The deal reached over the weekend is an interim arrangement that the parties could easily end at any time; however, it does buy six months during which the parties can begin the much harder task of reaching a long-term treaty.
Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium above five percent, the level for running a power plant and to degrade or neutralize its stocks of 20 percent enriched uranium. Bomb grade uranium is 90 percent enriched, a threshold that would undoubtedly provoke a reaction by Israel and the U.S. Iran also agreed to limit the number and capability of the enrichment centrifuges at two of its facilities and halt work on its Arak heavy water facility.
Compliance would be overseen by U.N. inspections on a daily basis.
In return, sanctions, that have seen Iran's oil exports cut in half and its currency depreciate 50 percent against the dollar, would be eased by $6 billion to $7 billion.
There was one loose end: Iran says the agreement implicitly recognizes its "inalienable right" to enrich uranium. Kerry says that the deal concedes no such right: "It's not in the document." Those flatly differing interpretations are an indication of how difficult the next stage of talks will be.
The deal could collapse if the U.S. Congress, goaded by Israel, passed tougher sanctions during the life of the agreement; there will be plenty of time for that if, after the six months have passed, Iran thumbs its nose at the world and begins work on a nuclear weapons capability.
But Tehran should keep in mind Winston Churchill's admonition, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://shns.com)