Representatives of Iran and Western powers reached an interim deal on Iran’s rogue nuclear program early Sunday morning, after a weekend of intensive talks in Geneva.
In a statement Sunday morning, US President Barack Obama said the deal was an “important first step” that opened up a “real opportunity to achieve a peaceful settlement” and address the world’s concerns over the program.
He said the deal included “substantial limitations” on Iran and would cut off Tehran’s most likely path to a bomb. “It won’t be easy,” Obama said, “and huge challenges remain ahead, but through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States will do our part” to deny Iran nuclear weapons.
Obama nevertheless acknowledged that it may be difficult for some of Washington’s allies in the Middle East to trust Iran’s intentions, saying Israel and the Gulf countries “have good reasons to be skeptical.”
A senior Obama administration official said that the West had not conceded an Iranian “right” to produce nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment, a key sticking point in previous negotiations.
The official said the deal included an agreement that Iran would halt progress on its nuclear program, including work on a plutonium reactor at the Arak facility. The deal also calls on Iran to neutralize its 20-percent-enriched uranium stockpiles. Tehran has also agreed to intrusive inspections under the terms of the deal.
The West has been seeking a six-month agreement to partially freeze Iran’s nuclear program while offering Iran incentives through limited sanctions relief. If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate final-stage deals to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
According to a Western diplomat quoted by Reuters, the deal would grant Iran access to $4.2 billion in foreign exchange.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, under the deal Iran will halt all uranium enrichment above 5% and “dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.” During the period covered by the deal, Tehran will also “neutralize” its existing stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, either diluting it to less than 5% or converting it “to a form not suitable for further enrichment.”
The document said the agreement also requires Iran to refrain from installing any new centrifuges and to render inoperable the majority of its centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordo uranium enrichment facilities. Tehran will also freeze its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium, and cease work on the Arak heavy water facility, the document said. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog would also be granted “daily access” to Natanz and Fordo, as well as providing “long-sought design information for the Arak reactor” and allowing inspectors more frequent access to the site.
On Sunday Iranian news site Fars News published what it said was an official translation of the agreement, although it did not say how it acquired the document. The four-page PDF in English, which could not be independently verified for authenticity, appeared to confirm the details released by the White House.
The agreement built on the momentum of the historic dialogue opened during September’s annual UN gathering, which included a 15-minute phone conversation between Obama and Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, after three decades of US-Iranian estrangement.
“The Iranian people’s vote for moderation and constructive engagement, plus tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons,” Rouhani said in a statement Sunday morning.
“Agreement in Geneva: first step makes world safer. More work now,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a comment tweeted by the State Department. The statement was retweeted by Rouhani’s account.
Afterward, addressing the press, Kerry said that if Iran’s nuclear program was truly just for peaceful purposes, then it simply needed to “prove it” to the world. He also insisted that the first-step deal would make Israel safer.
Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany headed for Geneva Friday after diplomats said Zarif and EU representative Catherine Ashton had made significant progress.
A previous round of talks between Iran and the six world powers ended November 10 with no deal, even after Kerry, Lavrov, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and a Chinese deputy foreign minister flew in and attempted to bridge differences.
The United States and its negotiating partners had signaled they were ready to ease some sanctions in return for a first-step deal that starts to put limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
They wanted Iran to stop enriching to a level higher than its main stockpile and only a technical step away from weapons-grade uranium as part of such a deal. They also sought to limit overall enrichment, as well as a formulation that would reduce the proliferation danger from the Arak reactor, which, if completed, would produce enough plutonium for up to two weapons.
But they insist that the most severe penalties — on Tehran’s oil exports and banking sector — will remain until the two sides reach a comprehensive agreement to minimize Iran’s nuclear arms-making capacity.
No details on relief offered have been made public. And the US administration has not commented on reports from congressional officials that Obama’s team estimates Iran could get $6-10 billion in benefits over six months for rolling back its nuclear program.
Several US senators — both Democrat and Republican — have voiced displeasure with the parameters of the potential agreement, arguing that the US and its partners are offering too much for something short of a full freeze on uranium enrichment.