The decision early last week of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and negotiating partner Iran to extend the Nov. 24 negotiations deadline was preferable to letting them expire. The talks can now continue until June 30.
At the same time, putting off a decision was second-best to reaching a final agreement on the subject. The risk now is that prolonging the negotiations will turn into a more permanent postponement of the conclusion of an accord.
All parties at the table have something to gain from an agreement. On the United Nations side, which is acting, in effect, for the whole world, there is the bridling and strict monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency of Iran’s nuclear program, including present and future capacity to build nuclear weapons.
Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; the only countries believed to have nuclear weapons that have not signed it are India, Israel and Pakistan.
The United States also should gain from the lightening and eventual removal of economic sanctions against Iran as American companies and financial institutions will be able to resume what was a profitable economic and commercial relationship with Iran before the ayatollahs took power in 1979.
There are plenty of American businesses and financiers waiting for the Iranian market to reopen to them. Iran is probably the only remaining untapped market awaiting attention. North Korea and Cuba don’t offer anything like the opportunities of Iran, with a population of 77 million and resources.
On the Iranian side, the reduction and elimination of economic sanctions against it would make a major difference to the state of its economy. The Iranians have had some success in working around the sanctions, but the measures have definitely weakened their overall economic position in world markets.
Reconciliation with Shiite Muslim Iran also would provide the United States a new ally in its conflict with Sunni al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
This latest step needs to be seen as a timeout, not an end to the drive to achieve a lasting, beneficial agreement.