Post imageCritics of the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs make a point — the steps outlined by global leaders this weekend are but one portion of the actions demanded by the United Nations Security Council. Nonetheless, the fact remains that diplomats fundamentally must begin someplace. Over time, the doors that diplomacy opened in Geneva may hold the potential for real progress.

As President Obama said to the nation following the signing: “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure.” In lock step, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged concerned governments to focus on “creating mutual confidence and allowing continued negotiations to extend the scope of this initial agreement.”

This six-month agreement—in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program and allow daily monitoring by international inspectors in exchange for easing some sanctions—indeed represents only a small portion of the concessions demanded by the U.S. Even so, it could signal the beginning of a new dialogue that is unprecedented in the region.
It has been 34 years since the U.S. spoke with an Iranian president, much less reached this level of formalized agreement. The silence was first broken after September’s historic UN General Assembly meeting. It is no small feat that, in just a few months since, the United States and Iran have signed its first diplomatic accord in three decades — no matter how provisional it might be.  As the New York Times aptly observed Sunday, such an achievement “opens the door to a range of geopolitical possibilities available to no American leader since Jimmy Carter.”

Coming on the heels of the UN Security Council’sdiplomatic route to the Syria chemical weapons crisis, this deal once again demonstrates the power of diplomacy – and just how critical our work with multilateral partners remains to making the world a safer, more peaceful place. In fact, if it weren’t for the tough sanctions imposed on Iran by our global partners through the UN Security Council, it’s highly doubtful that we’d be where we are today.

And the UN will continue playing a critical role in this incredibly high-stakes situation moving forward.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the UN’s nuclear watchdog organization—is at the center of the negotiations, called upon to perform the verification and inspection steps outlined in the deal.

As Secretary of State John Kerry has justly noted, “Verification is the key.” Indeed, without the IAEA, it’s hard to conceive how this agreement could have been reached.  With newly agreed-to access to Iran’s centrifuge assembly facilities and uranium mines and mills, the IAEA will each day conduct comprehensive monitoring, providing transparency into enrichment and shortening detection time for any non-compliance.

Of course, it’s entirely fair to say that there’s a long way to go before we see a completely nuclear-free Iran, and whether the Iranians will live up to their end of the bargain. However, multilateral negotiations have paved the way to altogether new possibilities. This is how progress begins, and we must acknowledge the value of diplomacy and the work of the UN and IAEA in finding the right solutions.