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Iran hails ‘new chapter’ as world starts lifting nuclear sanctions

Atta Kenare, AFP | Iran’s president in Tehran on January 5, 2016

Iran has begun a "new chapter" in its ties with the world, President Hassan Rohani said Sunday, hours after the UN nuclear watchdog said Tehran had met its obligations under a nuclear deal signed with world powers, prompting the lifting of sanctions.


The UN's nuclear watchdog late on Saturday confirmed that Iran had complied with its obligations under the July 14 accord, prompting the United States and the European Union to announce they were lifting the sanctions that have for years crippled Iran's economy.

Western governments hailed the announcement as a milestone, although some critics, including Israel, alleged that Tehran was still seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, representing the six world powers known as the P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany), announced the lifting of "multilateral and national" sanctions in Vienna. Mogherini said the deal showed that intense diplomacy could resolve even "the most difficult issues".

The announcement followed hours after the news of a prisoner swap between Iran and the United States that included the release of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three others in another sign of thawing relations between the longtime foes. Under the exchange, Washington said it had granted clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens, and dropped charges against 14 others.

The Washington Post said Sunday afternoon that Rezaian had been released and was on his way out of Iran.

Rohani, a moderate whose 2013 election victory helped launch a new diplomatic effort to strike a nuclear deal, said implementation of the agreement did not harm any country.

"We Iranians have reached out to the world ... have opened a new chapter in the relations of Iran with the world," the official IRNA news agency quoted Rohani as saying.

Iran is "not a threat to any government or nation", he said. The agreement "is not a loss for any country".

Rohani, who has promised that 2016 will be a "year of prosperity" for Iranians, was to give a press conference later on Sunday after presenting this year's budget.

World is 'safer', Kerry says

The United States ordered a raft of sanctions to be lifted, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying in Vienna: "The United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world are safer because the threat of the nuclear weapon has been reduced."

The lifting of the sanctions will allow Iran to resume oil exports, long the lifeblood of its economy, although Rohani has steadily moved away from relying on crude.

The deal will also open up business in the 79-million-strong country.

'This is a victory for Iran, but it's not a defeat for anyone involved'

The Vienna agreement was nailed down after two years of rollercoaster negotiations following Rohani's election. The highly complex deal drew a line under a stand-off dating back to 2002 marked by failed diplomatic initiatives, ever-tighter sanctions, defiant nuclear expansion by Iran and threats of military action.

In addition, the nuclear talks put Iran and the United States on the road to better relations, more than three decades after the Islamic revolution that toppled the US-backed shah.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano was due in Tehran on Sunday for talks on the UN watchdog's enhanced inspections to ensure Iran's continued compliance with the deal.

The steps required of Tehran include extending how long Iran would need to make one nuclear bomb's worth of fissile material to at least a year.

They also include slashing Iran's uranium centrifuges by two-thirds, reducing its stockpile of uranium – before the deal, Iran had enough for several bombs – and removing the core of the Arak reactor, which could have provided Iran with weapons-grade plutonium.

A "snapback" mechanism ensures that many of the sanctions can be swiftly reimposed if Tehran fails to comply with its obligations, and a special joint commission is in place to handle any misunderstandings between the signatories.

Iran has always denied wanting to develop atomic weapons, saying its nuclear activities were exclusively for peaceful purposes, including power generation and medical research.

Deal worries Israel, Arab states

Critics, including US President Barack Obama's Republican opponents, have heaped scorn on the nuclear deal, saying it fails to do enough to ensure Iran will never acquire a bomb.

Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state and Iran's archfoe, has repeatedly criticised the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Iran "has not relinquished its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons, and continues to act to destabilise the Middle East and spread terror throughout the world".

The Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival, is also alarmed at the prospect of warmer US-Iran ties – and of predominantly Shiite Iran, newly flush with oil revenue, increasing its influence.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, already fighting a proxy war in Yemen and backing opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, have reached new heights in past weeks.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its Sunni Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Tehran earlier this month after protesters angry at Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric on January 2 sacked its embassy in Tehran.

Iran's imminent return to the oil market has also contributed to the sharp slide in the price of crude to 12-year lows of under $30 per barrel this week, putting public finances in the Gulf nations under strain.

Gulf stocks tumbled on their first trading day of the week on Sunday, with the Saudi Tadawul All-Shares Index opening down 6.5 percent and the Dubai and Qatar exchanges both diving 6.0 percent at the opening.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Profile: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

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