The Guardian — Nov 24, 2013
Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal on Sunday to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
The agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.
The accord was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been co-ordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.
“This is only a first step,” the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told a news conference. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the deal was an important first step towards a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear programme.
The long drawn-out diplomacy had “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure”, he said.
The provisions of the deal “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb”, Obama said.
“Meanwhile, this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian programme. And because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its programme.”
In negotiations for a longer-term solution over the next six months, “nothing will be agreed to unless everything is agreed to”, he said.
“If Iran seizes this opportunity, the Iranian people will benefit from rejoining the international community, and we can begin to chip away at the mistrust between our two nations. This would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider world based on mutual respect. If, on the other hand, Iran refuses, it will face growing pressure and isolation.”
The agreement would make Israel and other US allies safer, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said.
He said while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.
But Israel’s intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, who is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, said the deal was based on “Iranian deception and self-delusion” and there was no reason for the world to be celebrating.
The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. It denies that, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
A senior US official said the agreement halted progress on Iran’s nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.
The deal would neutralise Iran’s stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20%, which is a short step away from the level needed for weapons, and called for intrusive UN nuclear inspections, the official said.
Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5%, a US fact sheet said.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants – Iran’s stated goal – but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.
The deal did not recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium and sanctions would still be enforced, the US official added.
Iran will get access to $4.2bn (£2.59bn) in foreign exchange as part of the accord, and was also expected to receive limited sanctions relief on gold, petrochemicals and cars, a Western diplomat said.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said on Twitter it was an “important and encouraging” first-stage agreement and meant Iran’s nuclear programme “won’t move forward for 6 months and parts rolled back”.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said the deal only confirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear power.
“After years of blockages, the agreement in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear programme is an important step to preserving security and peace,” Fabius said in a statement.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the negotiations with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.
The Western powers’ goal was cap Iran’s nuclear energy programme, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.
Tehran, whose oil-dependent economy has been severely damaged by tightening Western sanctions over the past few years, denies it would ever “weaponise” enrichment.
Diplomacy was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani aims to mend fences with big powers and get sanctions lifted. He obtained crucial public backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.
On a Twitter account widely recognised as representing Rouhani, a message after the agreement was announced said, “Iranian people’s vote for moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons”.
Before Sunday’s agreement, Israel said the deal being offered would give Iran more time to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told media in Moscow on Thursday that Iran was essentially given an “unbelievable Christmas present – the capacity to maintain this [nuclear] breakout capability for practically no concessions at all.”