FMs on Iran nuclear deal
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Reuters
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement in Geneva. Photo by Reuters

GENEVA - An interim agreement has been reached between six world powers and Iran that calls on Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, the French and Iranian foreign ministers said early Sunday.

To read the full text of the deal, click here.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, "Yes, we have a deal," as he walked past reporters crowding the hotel lobby where marathon negotiations had taken place over the past five days.

Asked if there was a deal, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "Yes" and gave a thumbs-up sign.

The goal had been to hammer out an agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear program for six months, while offering the Iranians limited relief from crippling economic sanctions. If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate final-stage agreements to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.

Obama lauds breakthrough

U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the negotiating teams and hailed the agreement as a major breathrough in a brief televised speech.

Cautioning that much work still remained ahead before a final agreement was reached, Obama said that due to the interim deal struck Sunday morning, Iran will not be able to "use negotiations as a cover for it's nuclear program."

The U.S., Obama said, will refrain from imposing new sanctions during the next six months. And while certain sanctions will be loosened, the broader architecture of the sanctions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Iran, said the president, has a right to atomic energy, like any other nation; but due to its history, the burden is on it "to prove to the word that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes."

"Israel and our gulf partners have good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions," Obama noted. "Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program," said Obama. "I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. However, I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict. Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it."

Obama plans to talk to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Sunday, a U.S. official said.

The deal came after the personal intervention by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers whose presence had raised hopes for a breakthrough.

First step towads a final agreement

The interim agreement, which will be in effect for a limited period of six months, sets the general framework for a comprehensive agreement that world powers hope would halt Iran's nuclear program for the long-run, supply guarantees that it has no military aspects, and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A final agreement with Iran is expected to address the United Nations Security Council resolutions against it and give answers to allegations by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Contrary to statements made by Zarif, a clear acknowledgement of Iran's right to enrich uranium is not included in the deal. Iran did commit to cease uranium enrichment to levels higher than five percent and to disconnect centrifuges that are used for high-level enrichment.

In addition, Iran agreed to convert its stockpile of 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium into gas or fuel rods – a move that would prevent it from later being enriched to higher levels. Iran also agreed not to expand its enrichment capacity by installing additional centrifuges or operating the "next generation" centrifuges, which have already been installed.

The deal says Iran will disable half of the centrifuges in the Natanz plant and three-quarters of those in the underground facility near Fordo. Iran will not be allowed to build new enrichment installations or a centrifuge stockpile, and would only be able to replace faulty centrifuges. Iran will be allowed to continue enrich uranium to a level of 3.5 percent but not to enlarge its current stockpile. Newly-enriched uranium will only replace older uranium or will be converted.

As for the Arak heavy-water reactor, Iran agreed not to start operating it or modify it in any way, such as fuel of heavy water. Fuel production for the reactor will be cut in half and fuel experiments will be stopped. Iran is forbidden to build a plutonium separation facility for fuel from the reactor – a process which could be used to produce material for a nuclear bomb. Iran will also hand over to the IAEA technical information regarding the Arak reactor and allow visits by inspectors.

As part of the interim agreement, UN nuclear watchdog inspectors will be allowed daily access to the Natanz and Fordow facilities. The inspectors will be able to use surveillance footage of the facilities and review centrifuge assembly and production factories, as well as uranium mines.

Based on the information provided by the inspectors, the international community will determine whether the Iranians are abiding by the interim agreement.

In return, some sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., EU and the UN will be lifted. The relief will include sanctions from various sectors, such as gold and precious metals trade, parts for the automobile industry and petrochemical exports. The relief of these sanctions is estimated at around $1.5 billion in revenue over the next six months.

The Iranians will also be allowed to import spare parts for civilian airliners. 
As for the country's frozen assets, Iran will receive $4.2 billion from proceeds of oil sales in installments, if conditions of the agreement are fulfilled. In addition, a further $400 million will be made available to fund the studies of Iranian students abroad. Altogether, around $6.1 billion of assets will be unfrozen over the next six months.

The main sanctions on Iran's oil trade, estimated at around $4 billion a month, and on Iran's banking system will not be lifted until a final deal will be reached. If Iran adheres to the terms of the agreement, no new sanctions will be put in place in the next six months.

Late night session ends in breakthrough

Speculation as to the session's success was rife early on Sunday morning as negotiators retired after hours of talks. But shortly after 3:00 A.M. local time, conflicting reports were cut short with the dramatic announcement.

"We have reached an agreement," Iran's Foreign Minister concisely tweeted, as the news broke.

This is only interim agreement, and the main deal lies six months away - and will probably be much more difficult to achieve.

'No recognition for uranium enrichment'

An agreement between Iran and major powers would make it harder for Iran to make a dash to build a nuclear weapon and would make Israel and other U.S. allies safer, Kerry said on Sunday.

Speaking after the agreement was struck between Iran and six major powers, Kerry also said that while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.

Addressing one of the most contentious issues in the 10-year nuclear standoff, Kerry said that the deal does not include any recognition of an Iranian "right" to enrich uranium.

But speaking on Iran's Press TV, Zarif said the deal had recognized Iran's nuclear program. He added that in a final "step" all sanctions would be lifted.

Zarif said the deal was an opportunity for the West to restore trust with the Iranian nation, adding Tehran would expand cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, to address what he called some concerns.

Shortly prior to Obama's remarks, the White House released a short 'fact sheet' explaining the agreement and the rationals that directed the U.S. in its negotiating efforts.