Iran leader Hassan Rouhani says nuclear deal can open ‘new page’
* Netanyahu: Final pact must recognise Israel's right to exist
* State Department: Deal is only about nuclear issue
* Obama calls leaders in Congress
* Iranians celebrate on Tehran streets
Iran could turn a new page in its relations with the rest of the world, the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said yesterday as he faced down hardliners opposed to the framework nuclear agreement hammered out in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Mr Rouhani’s speech in Tehran came as President Barack Obama worked in Washington to convince sceptical Republicans in Congress not to wreck a deal that was denounced by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a threat to his country’s survival.
“If the other side honours its promises, we will honour our promises,” Mr Rouhani said in a televised national address, adding that the deal signalled that Iran had entered an era of “new cooperation” with the world.
“Some think we should either fight with the world or give in to the global powers,” Mr Rouhani said, calling instead for a “third way” of engaging internationally as he pushed back against conservative elements in Iran that called the deal “a disaster”.
As both leaders worked to sell the agreement, Mr Netanyahu warned that the promise to lift crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a decade-long freeze on the country’s nuclear enrichment programme could “threaten the survival” of Israel.
“Israel demands that any final agreement with Iran will include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist,” Mr Netanyahu added after a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet, where ministers unanimously opposed the agreement.
His comments came after a late-night phone call with Mr Obama in which Mr Netanyahu “vehemently opposed” the framework deal hammered out after eight days of negotiations in Lausanne.
The White House issued a statement saying that Mr Obama understood Mr Netanyahu’s position and that he would not sign an agreement that would pose a threat to Israel.
Negotiators now have until June 30 to overcome some significant gaps that still exist between the parties – particularly over the scope and timing of UN inspections and the timetable for granting any sanctions relief to Iran.
While unable to assuage Israel’s virulent opposition, Mr Obama appeared to have secured muted approval from Saudi Arabia, which has also opposed the deal fearing that lifting sanctions on Tehran would empower its regional foe, fuelling proxy conflicts.
Despite what experts describe as Saudi misgivings, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud told Mr Obama that he hoped a final settlement of the nuclear dispute would “strengthen the stability and security of the region and the world”.
A Gulf source close to Saudi thinking said: “It’s about verification. If they don’t comply, the boycott will be reimposed. This is a reassuring result.” The source added that Riyadh was still worried about Tehran’s wider role in the region.
In Washington, Congressional leaders from both parties responded coolly to Mr Obama’s plea not to wreck a deal by passing fresh sanctions legislation against Iran, or a bill that would give Congress a vote approving any final agreement.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said he would still press forward with a bill to give Congress power to alter the deal on April 14.
“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme and hold the regime accountable,” he said in a statement.
Mr Obama has promised to veto any such legislation, and it is still not clear if enough Democrats would side with the 100-seat Senate’s 54 Republicans to create the two-thirds “super majority” needed to override a presidential veto.
The debate over Mr Obama’s decision to engage Iran is also already playing into the looming 2016 presidential election contest, with several leading Republican contenders dismissing it out of hand.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, said the agreement was “flawed” and would legitimise, not deny, Iran’s nuclear programme. Marco Rubio, the hawkish Florida senator, called the administration’s approach “farcical”.