Iran, six world powers reach 'historic' nuclear deal
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Diplomats said Tuesday that a landmark agreement was reached on Iran’s nuclear programme on the 18th day of marathon talks in Vienna, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini calling the deal “a sign of hope for the entire world”.
Speaking from the White House, Obama hailed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a breakthrough that had been made possible by restarting dialogue with Tehran.
"Today after two years of negotiation the United States, together with the international community, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said.
"This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification," he added, warning that he would veto any legislation from Congress aimed at undermining the accord.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said "a new chapter" had begun in relations between the world and the Islamic Republic while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the agreement "historic". And while the deal was not perfect, Zarif said, it was the best that could be concluded under the circumstances.
"It is not a comprehensive agreement for all parties involved, but it is the best achievement possible that could be reached," Iran's Students News Agency quoted him as saying.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the final agreement was "the good deal that we sought". US officials have long maintained that no deal with Iran was better than a bad deal.
"We were determined to get this right and I believe our persistence paid off," he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Monde that the agreement was "sufficiently robust" to last for the next decade and beyond. He added that the six negotiating powers will be vigilant in ensuring that funds made available by the lifting of sanctions will not be used by Tehran to fund Shiite militias in the Middle East. Iran has been accused of backing militias fighting for the Syrian regime, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
More than $100 billion in overseas frozen assets will be made available to Iran alongside the lifting of a European oil embargo and financial restrictions on Iranian banks.
The spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the nuclear deal will be "a catalyst for regional stability".
If the Vienna agreement is fully respected, Fabius said, it will help normalise the West's relations with Iran. “This is what makes the deal historic,” he said.
Officials say the deal includes allowing UN inspectors to request access to Iranian military sites and calls for sanctions to be reinstated if Iran fails to comply with the terms of the agreement ̶ both major sticking points throughout the negotiations.
Under the deal UN inspectors can press for monitoring visits to Iranian military sites, diplomats said. Access, however, is by no means guaranteed. Tehran would have the right to challenge the UN request and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the P5+1 ̶ the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany ̶ would make the final decision.
The agreement is a notable departure from previous assertions by top Iranian officials that they would never allow access to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran has repeatedly turned down IAEA requests to visit sites where it suspects nuclear work was going on, including at Parchin, a military complex where the IAEA believes explosives testing linked to setting off a nuclear charge has been conducted.
Speaking soon after the reports of the deal, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano called the agreement a "significant step forward". He told reporters in Vienna that the agency would now be able to "make an assessment of issues relating to the possible military dimensions [of] Iran's nuclear programme by the end of 2015".
In another apparent concession, Iran has accepted a “snapback” plan that will reinstate sanctions within 65 days if Tehran fails to comply with the terms of the Vienna deal, diplomats told Reuters on Tuesday.
Another sticking point, whether to lift a UN arms embargo on Iran, ended in an agreement that the embargo would stay in place for five years and UN missile sanctions would remain in force for eight years.
Even under the embargo, arms deliveries would be possible with special permission of the UN Security Council, Russia's foreign minister said. Moscow, which wants to expand military cooperation and arms sales to Tehran, has long opposed the embargo.
"There was a compromise reached between Iran and Western colleagues which we supported ... five years, but during the five years arms deliveries to Iran would be possible if they clear a notification and verification process in the UN Security Council," Sergei Lavrov told journalists.
'Mistake of historic proportions'
Israeli leaders were quick to condemn the agreement, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a “mistake of historic proportions”.
“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons; many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in Jerusalem.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has earlier reiterated Israel’s opposition to the deal on Israeli Army Radio.
“What is being drafted, even if we managed to slightly improve it over the past year, is a bad agreement, full of loopholes,” he said. “If we call it by its true name, they are selling the world’s future for a questionable diplomatic achievement in the present.”
Many in Israel view a nuclear-capable Iran as an existential threat after former Iranian leaders have said that Israel should be "eliminated".
The deal, concluded in Vienna, will now go to the UN Security Council which is expected to endorse it by the end of the month. Then come the mechanics of implementation – introducing long-term, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Tough review by Congress
The agreement also faces hurdles within the US political establishment, with both Republican and Democratic leaders suggesting the deal will face tough scrutiny in Congress.
The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, called for a "level-headed" approach to an assessment of the deal. "Now it is incumbent on Congress to review this agreement with the thoughtful, level-headed process an agreement of this magnitude deserves," he said.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned that the Vienna accord would only serve to "embolden" Tehran. "Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world," Boehner said in a statement, adding that US lawmakers "will review every detail of this agreement very closely".
And congressional approval may prove key to implementing the deal – the Senate voted overwhelmingly in May to pass a bill giving Congress the right to review, and potentially reject, any agreement that US diplomats conclude with Iran.
Congress now has 60 days to review the deal, but even if lawmakers vote to reject it Obama can veto that decision. Two-thirds of lawmakers would then have to vote to override the presidential veto, which would require some of Obama’s fellow Democrats to side with the Republicans.
Asked by reporters what the White House would do if Congress rejected the deal, Kerry said that scenario was unlikely.
"I really don't believe that people will turn their backs on an agreement which has such extraordinary steps in it with respect to Iran's programme, as well as access and verification," he said.
Despite the challenges ahead it would be hard to deny that the breakthrough in Vienna was a diplomatic win for the US president.
The nuclear agreement "will undoubtedly be Obama's biggest foreign policy achievement", said Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council.
"[Normalising relations with] Cuba may have been closer to home for most Americans, but Iran ̶ and preventing the path for a bomb there and changing the nature of that relationship ̶ is far more consequential geopolitically," Parsi said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)