Iran seals nuclear deal in return for easing of sanctions
Tehran agrees to halt some of its work on uranium enrichment for six months
A handout picture provided by the US Department of State shows US secretary of state John Kerry (right) embracing under secretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman after sic nations concluded a nuclear deal with Iran in Geneva, Switzerland, this morning. Photograph: EPA
British foreign secretary William Hague (left), Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (third right), EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton (fifth right), Iranian foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif (not pictured), Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (right), US secretary of state John Kerry (fourth right), Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (not pictured), French foreign minister Laurent Fabius (second left), are seen during a ceremony at the UN in Geneva after the Iran deal was reached. Photograph: EPA
Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal early today to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.
Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was clinched after more than four days of tortuous negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.
Halting Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work, it was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the spectre of a Middle East war over Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
Video: Obama reacts to Iran nuclear deal
But Israel has denounced it as a “bad deal” and said it would not be bound by it.
US secretary of state John Kerry today sought to reassure skeptics in the US Congress who worry that the six-month agreement gives Iran too much leeway and that it might end up using it as a stalling tactic. Mr Kerry told CNN that US officials entered into the deal with their eyes “absolutely wide open”.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating 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,” 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.”
Hard-pressed by sanctions, many Iranians were elated by the easing of tensions and prospect of economic improvement. US president Barack Obama said that if Iran did not meet its commitments during a six-month period, the US would turn off sanctions relief and “ratchet up the pressure”.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the interim agreement and urged the governments concerned “to do everything possible to build on this encouraging start”.
But Israel was unhappy. “This is a bad deal. It grants Iran exactly what it wanted - both a significant easing in sanctions and preservation of the most significant parts of its nuclear programme,” an official in prime minister Benjamin Netanhayu’s office said.
Israeli officials however stopped short of threatening unilateral military action that could further isolate the Jewish state and imperil its alliance with Washington, saying more time was needed to assess the agreement.
The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.
The US 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 could yield potential bomb material. It would neutralise Iran’s stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 per cent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive UN nuclear inspections, a senior US official said.
Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 per cent, a US fact sheet said. Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants -