The leaders of the United States and Iran hailed a historic agreement reached Tuesday aimed at ensuring the Islamic Republic does not obtain a nuclear bomb, opening up Tehran’s stricken economy and potentially ending decades of bad blood with the West.
US President Barack Obama said the deal meant “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.”
“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring real and meaningful change,” he said in an address to the nation, with Vice President Joe Biden by his side.
“This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”
Reached on day 18 of marathon talks in Vienna, the accord is aimed at resolving a 13-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions after repeated diplomatic failures and threats of military action.
It was hailed by Iran, the United States, the European Union and others but branded a “historic mistake” by Israel.
Obama vowed to veto any Congressional effort to block the deal, reached between Tehran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Underscoring the tectonic shift in relations, Iranian state television broadcast Obama’s statement live, only the second such occasion since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Obama said the deal ensures that “Iran will not produce … the material necessary for a nuclear bomb,” and that even though it currently has a stockpile of uranium sufficient for producing ten nuclear weapons, the accord will ensure that the stockpile will be shipped abroad.
“This agreement is not built on trust, it is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear sites,” Obama said. “If Iran violates the deal, all the sanctions will snap back into place. Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it receives new sanctions relief.”
The lack of an agreement with Iran would encourage other countries in the Middle East to seek their own nuclear weapons, he claimed.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in his own live televised address that “God has accepted the nation’s prayers.”
Speaking right after Obama, Rouhani hailed the deal as “good news” for the Iranian people and said the “usurper Zionist regime” had failed in its efforts to obstruct the deal and nuclear program, referring to Israel.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the deal as “a sign of hope” around the globe, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said the world had “breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close ally of Iran, also offered his congratulations.
The deal puts strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities for at least a decade and calls for stringent UN oversight, with world powers hoping this will make any dash to make an atomic bomb virtually impossible.
In return Iran will get sanctions relief although the measures can “snap back” into place if there are any violations.
The international arms embargo against Iran will remain for five years but deliveries would be possible with special permission of the UN Security Council, Moscow said.
Tehran has agreed to allow the UN atomic watchdog tightly controlled “managed access” to military bases, an Iranian official said.
Tehran will slash by around two-thirds the number of centrifuges from around 19,000 to 6,104, an Iranian “fact sheet” confirmed.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged that the agreement was “not perfect for anybody” but described it as “an important achievement.”
Speaking at a press conference announcing the agreement had been concluded, Mogherini said that the nuclear agreement with Iran deal was “a good deal, a good deal for all sides and the international community.”
“Today is an historic day. It is a great honor for us that we have reached an agreement. With courage, political will and leadership, we have delivered on what the world was hoping for,” Mogherini said in English. “No one ever thought it would be easy. Historic decisions never are,” she said.
“Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will it seek, acquire or develop nuclear weapons,” she added. “These documents are detailed and specific. All sides want clarity to assure the full and effective implementation of the agreement.”
“It is a balanced deal that respects the interest of all sides.”
Her comments were also repeated by Zarif in Farsi.
“Iran states that it will never seek to create military nuclear weapons. We will not do that today or in the future,” Zarif said. “It is not just an agreement. It is a satisfactory agreement, a fair agreement.”
Painful international sanctions that have slashed the oil exports of OPEC’s fifth-largest producer by a quarter and choked its economy will be lifted and billions of dollars in frozen assets unblocked.
The deal — which was built on a framework first hammered out in April — is Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement six years after he told Iran’s leaders that if they “unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
It also the fruit of Rouhani’s attempts since his election in 2013 to end Iran’s isolation 35 years after the Islamic revolution.
The agreement may lead to more cooperation between Tehran and Washington at a particularly explosive time in the Middle East with the emergence last year of the Islamic State group, a common enemy, which controls swaths of Syria and Iraq.
But while the deal was hailed by world leaders, Israeli leaders and Congressional lawmakers sounded a warning bell that the deal would not make the world safer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement “a historic mistake for the world,” and deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely vowed to fight the agreement with all diplomatic means.
In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham called the deal “akin to declaring war on Israel and the Sunni states” who have also expressed jitters over a nuclear Iran.
“My initial impression is that this deal is far worse than I ever dreamed it could be and will be a nightmare for the region, our national security and eventually the world at large,” he told Foreign Policy magazine.
Erasing decades of hostility will be tough, as seen in Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s July 11 comments about US “arrogance” and the burning of US and Israeli flags last week.
The prospect of better US-Iran relations alarms Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states, which are deeply suspicious of Shiite Iran and accused it of stoking unrest in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The United States Congress will now have 60 days to review the agreement.
During this time Obama cannot waive Congressional sanctions, which for Iran are the most painful.
The opponents, backed by legions of lobbyists, are set to launch an intense campaign to try and secure a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto and scupper the deal.
Even if the agreement gets past Congress — the Iranian parliament and the UN Security Council also have to approve it — implementing the accord could be a rough ride.
France said it expected UN Security Council approval “within days.”
The UN nuclear watchdog will have to verify that Iran does indeed scale down its facilities, clearing the way for the complex choreography of untangling the web of UN, US and EU sanctions.
“I think there is a real risk that during the early phase of putting everything in place, that we’ll see actions on both sides… that will undermine the durability of an agreement,” said Suzanne Maloney at the Brookings Institution.
But Obama said without the deal, Iran would be able to pursue a nuclear weapon, making the region and world less safe.
“Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal there would be no agreed-upon limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. No deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries would begin their own nuclear programs,” Obama said, adding that such a prospect would fuel an arms race in “one of the most volatile regions of the world.”
“No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said.
Obama also noted that if a deal is violated, future US presidents would have “the same options” available to them as are currently available to him, hinting that a military option could still be pursued.