This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama hails an historic agreement with Iran, but is the framework likely to lead to a nuclear-free Middle East? And can the administration get Israel and Congress on board?
Plus, the furor over Indiana's religious freedom law offers a preview of the culture wars heading into 2016. Are Republicans ready for that fight?
And a brutal massacre in Kenya this Easter week reminds us once again of the grim reality facing Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As president and commander-in-chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people. And I'm convinced that if this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
That was President Obama Thursday announcing that the United States and its negotiating partners had reached a, quote, "historic understanding with Iran," agreeing on the framework of a deal meant to block the Islamic republic from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.
Joining me now with a look at the details of the accord and what's left to be accomplished before a final June 30th deadline is Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.
So, Dan, a lot of details that we're going to talk about. Big picture, the president said a good deal. You agree?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: No, I think it's a weak deal, Paul. Let look at the big picture. When they began these negotiations in early 2013, the goal was to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
GIGOT: Still is, the president says.
HENNINGER: Well, halfway through, they decided, and they claim they saw this coming, Iran was not going to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. What we have ended up with is a country that has one year, called the breakout period, to build a nuclear weapon. So they still remain with the ability to do what they wanted to do from the beginning. This is what's known as a threshold nuclear state. And because we have a threshold nuclear state in Iran that puts in motion the other dynamics we have been worrying about, about proliferation around the Middle East, among other countries.
GIGOT: All right, Bret, let's talk about some of the specific weaknesses, holes in this framework agreement. Even the president concedes they have a lot of work to do, which is odd considering how really cheering he was about the broader deal. But where are the big holes in your view?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, the biggest hole has to do with the inspections process. The president trumpeted the fact that the deal would include something called the additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is a tougher set of inspections rules. But the deal does not include what you might call anytime, anywhere inspections, which are the thing that you have if any kind of deal is going to be honored.
Look, the terms of this deal could have been even better at least on paper. But if you can't inspect it, our experience from past episodes of inspection like North Korea, is that these types of regimes will cheat. And this deal provides Iran with ample opportunities to cheat and to rely on the Russians especially to cover for them at the U.N.
GIGOT: There's -- also Iran is retaining the nuclear infrastructure in reduced form. I mean, the facilities are essentially going to remain there. I guess the one exception is the plutonium facility at Arak, A-R-A- K, will be dismantled. And --
STEPHENS: No, no --
GIGOT: It's basically being redone.
GIGOT: But it will be a research reactor instead of a plutonium reactor.
HENNINGER: Now the second big element that remains vague is the lifting of economic sanctions. For all the pages of detail they listed in the parameters, the sanctions piece is very unclear. The Iranians said in a news conference, their negotiators said we expect the sanctions to be lifted when the final agreement is signed.
GIGOT: Immediately. Immediately.
HENNINGER: Immediately, in June. The Obama administration has always insisted that that was not going to happen unless Iran was in compliance. But once those sanctions begin to break apart and Western commercial interests go in there, it's Katy bar the door.
GIGOT: Yeah, the president said that the sanctions will be phased out. I think he's being slippery there. The toughest sanctions, which are the financial -- the ones at the U.N. -- those are the ones that are going to be -- seems to me, as I read the agreement, will go as the Iranians suggest immediately.
STEPHENS: Let's recall, Paul, this is still an outline of an agreement, details to be worked out presumably by the end of June. With any of these agreements, you know, the proper -- the devil is in the details really does apply. Here the question is what -- the Iranian method of cheating and also the Iranian method of negotiation hasn't been to sort of flagrantly flout terms of any agreement. They have basically kind of worked their way out of it, step by step, so no one particular violation is enough to trigger a major international response. And by the way, let's remember, we have been here before. I mentioned the additional protocol earlier. The Iranians agreed to the additional protocol in --
GIGOT: Once before.
STEPHENS: -- and then walked out it a couple of years later.
GIGOT: Yeah, so this also raises the question of what happens if they do cheat or are suspected cheating. In the summary of the agreement, it looks like they are going to have to go to a process in the United Nations.
STEPHENS: To be specified later.
GIGOT: To be specified later. And we know what that means. That sounds like a United Nations committee, which might as well be, you know, lost in space. It's just not -- it's going to take forever to try to of settle these things before anybody could ask to stop Iran.
HENNINGER: Right. And while the world is going through these processes, the Iranians will be sitting there, albeit with somewhat restricted nuclear program, building forward to that bomb.
GIGOT: But the president I think did achieve what he wanted politically here, which is to get the appearance of momentum going forward. He's probably stopped Congress, Bred, from being able to re-impose or strengthen sanctions between now and June.
STEPHENS: There's no question he's bought time with the constituency that matters to him most, which is to say the 16 Democrats in the Senate who had signed on to a previous version of what we called the Kirk/Menendez bill on additional sanctions.
GIGOT: Tougher sanctions.
STEPHENS: He'll be able to take the case to them, look, we made enough progress but you have to give me the benefit of the doubt. I suspect that's going to be the process going forward.