If so, that would signal a major change in position by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly rejected both interim and comprehensive offers to end the standoff over the nuclear program. But the Obama administration should not necessarily be prepared to accept an Iranian "yes" for an answer, even if it is unqualified. That is because Iran’s continued development of its nuclear infrastructure
during the course of this year has torn some big holes in what was intended to be a temporary safety net.
year ago, Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent appeared to be the most dangerous piece of its nuclear infrastructure, because that material could be quickly converted to bomb-grade. The enrichment takes place in an underground facility that has little plausible use other than for weapons production. A freeze or shutdown of that plant and the securing of the material already produced, if accepted by Tehran even six months ago, would have eased the threat that Iran could race to produce a bomb sometime soon.
Any accord with Iran, even an interim arrangement, must take these new facts into account. No sanctions relief should be granted unless Iran takes steps that decisively push back its potential time frame for producing the core of a nuclear warhead. That means that the advanced centrifuges and the Arak reactor must now be part of any deal.
Even such a broadened interim arrangement would draw strong objections from Israel
, which says that no sanctions should be eased unless Iran gives up all uranium enrichment. Israeli officials argue that even a slight easing of sanctions would cause the system to quickly crumble, as Russia, China, Turkey, India and other nations that have only reluctantly honored the sanctions rush to resume normal trade. Iran might then win sufficient relief to succor its economy while retaining a robust nuclear capacity.
All the difficulties with a preliminary accord might be addressed if it were folded into a larger framework that spells out how much of its nuclear program Iran is prepared to give up in exchange for full sanctions relief. That, in turn, invites the ultimate test of the new government: Is it willing to definitely abandon its drive for a nuclear weapon or only temporize?