EDITORIAL

Nuclear agreement a crucial test of Iran's openness

The framework agreement signed last week, under which Iran will restrict its nuclear activities in return for relief from sanctions, is a welcome step in international efforts against nuclear non-proliferation.

Teheran has made concessions by agreeing to its stocks of highly-enriched uranium being cut by 98 per cent for 15 years, while its unfinished Arak reactor will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. Also, the deal will result in Iran reducing by roughly two-thirds - to 6,104 from around 19,000 - the number of uranium centrifuges, which can produce fuel for nuclear power but also the core of a nuclear bomb.

The deal, if adhered to, should make it virtually impossible for Iran to produce nuclear weapons but allow it to pursue nuclear energy generation and research for peaceful purposes.

These have been the stated goals of its nuclear programme, but they were met with scepticism by critics who saw them as a cover for nuclear armament. In return for concessions to assuage such concerns, the Iranian economy will benefit from the gradual suspension of international sanctions as the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms Iranian compliance with the deal. This would be a win-win deal for Iran and its negotiating partners - China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany. They must be credited for the agreement in principle, with a comprehensive accord due by the end of June.

Although opposition to the deal is expected in both the US Congress and conservative Iranian circles, its larger strategic purpose is to ensure greater openness in Iran. To help check increasing instability in the Middle East, an Iran that is a responsible member of the world community would be far more welcome than one with a foreign policy marked with prickliness and occasional adventurism.

With not insubstantial economic and military resources at its disposal, the countervailing influence of Shi'ite Iran would aid the success of international efforts to prevent the forcible redrawing of regional frontiers by terrorist organisations, as cross-border militancy threatens the Sunni world - particularly in the malevolent shape of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The architects of the agreement must now ensure that it is honoured in both letter and spirit. The onus lies on Iran to convince its detractors that it is not cutting corners. This it can do by adhering to rigorous protocols of responsibility. Israelis, who have reason to be threatened by Iran emerging as a nuclear weapons power, are not wrong in demanding that Teheran demonstrate a clear and unambiguous recognition of Israel's right to exist. The gesture would underscore Iranian goodwill.