Members of Congress who want their say would do well to remember lessons from Reagan.

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Diplomats working for a negotiated end to Iran's nuclear program say they need a little more time. We should give it to them. Talking longer to close the remaining gaps and secure a lasting deal is certainly better than letting the talks collapse.

A collapse would be a disaster, raising the prospect of another war in the Middle East, or another nuclear-weapons state. If a deal is reached with the support of America's major allies, on the other hand, it could vastly improve U.S. security and make important gains for the overall stability of the Middle East.

The goal was to reach a final deal by Sunday. Negotiators are close, but not quite there yet. A short extension of the talks is a win/win: Iran's nuclear program will remain frozen in place, as it has been since the negotiations began, and on-site inspections of their facilities will continue.

A final deal hammered out between Iran and the so-called "P5+1" nations (U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany) will just be the beginning, however. Critics and supporters in Congress want to have their say. As they begin that process, they could learn valuable lessons from President Reagan.

Despite his distrust of the Soviet Union and his consistent denunciation of the role of Soviet proxies around the world, Reagan was wise enough to sense the opportunity that the new government of Mikhail Gorbachev presented. Reagan began to develop a relationship with him and to explore the possibility of a thaw. He was not naïve. As negotiations unfolded, Reagan's team demanded tangible concessions and most of all, unprecedented verification to confirm that those changes were substantive not rhetorical.

Today, the government of President Hassan Rouhani in Iran represents a change as well. Rouhani — whom I've met twice — knows that he must quickly revive Iran's sanction-crippled economy. He must meet the needs of the growing population, most of whom were born long after the 1979 revolution and who aspire for integration with the West. To do that, he needs to compromise.

The Iranian public wants a deal, is willing to accept sharp limits on the nuclear program and looks upon this process as the beginning of a larger opening with the West. The nuclear deal is a potential gateway issue. It does not guarantee that other issues will be resolved – from improving Iran's appalling human rights record to cooperation on Afghanistan and Iraq — but without a deal progress on these other issues in likely impossible.

A solid deal will have to rest on an unprecedented level of inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities. It is the number of inspections, not the number of centrifuges, that will deter any Iranian thought of a "break out" to bolt for a bomb. Inspectors with regular access to Iran's nuclear facilities can provide warning within days or hours of any such attempt. The U.S. and our allies could take immediate action, long before Iran could make a bomb. This updates Reagan's famous phrase to "all verify and no trust."

Failing to get a deal would leave in place an Iranian program with no inspectors, no constraints. The sanctions regime would likely collapse. Military strikes could be launched, but they cannot destroy the Iranian nuclear program. That requires a ground invasion. No wonder new polls show that 60% of Americans want a negotiated resolution.

Reagan's thaw with the Soviet Union faced heated resistance from many in his own party. Columnist George Will accused him of "moral appeasement" and an ad campaign was launched comparing him to Britain's former conservative prime minister Neville Chamberlain. We can expect to see the same attacks from many of the same people regarding an Iran deal.

We can learn from what Reagan said then, "I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war." The same may be said for many who try to sabotage a deal with Iran.

Reagan was wise enough to recognize the opportunity to advance U.S. security by working with Gorbachev. It remains to be seen whether leading senators will show the same wisdom.

Joseph Cirincione is the president of the Ploughares Fund and the author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.

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