While seemingly welcomed news, indications that Iran may be softening its opposition to outside inspections of its secret military facilities is not reason enough for the international community to consider easing current sanctions or delaying planned ones.
It is those sanctions, after all, that persuaded Iran to return to negotiations. Those talks, between Iran and a global contingent of negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, began Wednesday.
On the eve of the talks the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, reported a breakthrough in his group's long-standing effort to gain access to Iranian military facilities, its only means of judging whether Iran is moving toward development of nuclear weaponry. A "structured agreement" is in place with details to follow, he announced.
But the world must view this apparent concession in the context of the past practice of Iran to enter into negotiations, and tolerate inspections, only long enough to buy time and avoid tougher sanctions, only to boot out inspectors when they got too close to the truth and exit negotiations in an indignant huff.
The Obama administration's reaction was spot on.
"We will make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements," said Jay Carney, White House press secretary.
Perhaps most alarming the theocrats in Tehran is the planned boycott of Iran oil exports beginning July 1. While existing economic sanctions are hurting Iran, the inability to sell its oil would be crippling and could potentially destabilize the current regime's grip on power. It was quite the diplomatic achievement to get global unity on the oil sanctions, and world leaders should not back away from them without concrete and substantive action by Tehran.
This is not to say the White House and its negotiating allies should rule out any easing of sanctions. Negotiations by their very nature must involve give and take. But that give from Iran must involve substantive evidence that it has stopped enriching uranium to weapon-level purity and is prepared to export existing stockpiles.
Otherwise, keep up the pressure.